A drone has completed the successful delivery of an organ for a kidney transplant, marking the first time in history an unmanned aircraft has made such a delivery.
It's an achievement that could change the face of organ transplants, making delivery safer, more accessible, and more affordable for everyone.
Drone Brings Kidney To Patient
According to a news release from University of Maryland Medical Center, researchers used an unmanned aircraft to bring a donor kidney to surgeons at the medical center for the transplantation to a patient.
WKYT reports that the drone carried its precious cargo from West Baltimore to the medical center 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers) away.
Before getting the transplant, the 44-year-old patient with kidney failure spent eight years on dialysis. Describing the achievement as "amazing," she got discharged from the hospital on Tuesday, April 23.
It took the collaboration of numerous transplant physicians, researchers, aviation experts, engineers, and multiple other supporters to get the project off the ground. The custom-built drone sports eight rotors and multiple powertrains to ensure top performance, even in possible component failure.
"We had to create a new system that was still within the regulatory structure of the FAA, but also capable of carrying the additional weight of the organ, cameras, and organ tracking, communications, and safety systems over an urban, densely populated area—for a longer distance and with more endurance," explained Matthew Scassero, who is the director of the University of Maryland UAS Test Site.
The drone has already previously transported various medical-related cargo, including blood tubes and saline.
Drones Offer Potential Of Improving Organ Delivery
For its inaugural flight, the drone may have appeared to travel a short distance, but it's a big step for donors and patients alike.
Transport is a crucial part of the organ transplant process, but it is often the most complicated since there are few methods of transport and the organ only remains viable for a very limited period of time. Many rural or remote areas in the country are not covered by current transport methods, which limits the access of patients in these areas to organs they may need.
In 2018, about 1.5 percent of deceased donor organ shipments did not reach their destination, while almost 4 percent of organ shipments were delayed for two or more hours, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Total waiting list candidates for an organ transplant is currently at 113,662.
With a drone that can travel great distance quickly and safely, more of these patients can gain access to potentially life-saving organs.
"Delivering an organ from a donor to a patient is a sacred duty with many moving parts," said project lead Dr. Joseph Scalea, explaining that the new technology opens up opportunities to better access and a wider pool of donors. "It is critical that we find ways of doing this better."