Health Care

Successful transplant after first drone delivery of a donated kidney

Successful transplant after first drone delivery of a donated kidney”

The recipient was a 44-year old woman from Baltimore, Maryland who was on dialysis for a period of eight years before the transplant was done.

"This major advance in human medicine and transplantation exemplifies two key components of our mission: innovation and collaboration", said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine. It was equipped with the latest in aircraft operatings systems, reportedly combining "practices from both UAS [unmanned aircraft system] and organ transport".

Designing a UAS organ delivery systemTo create a UAS designed to carry an organ and provide real-time monitoring of its condition, Scalea partnered with several medical technology companies to design and develop the Human Organ Monitoring and Quality Assurance Apparatus for Long-Distance Travel (HOMAL; patent pending).

The three-mile journey required a lot of new technology, including a custom-made drone capable of carrying the additional weight of an organ, which also needed on-board cameras and organ tracking, and communications and safety systems for a flight over an urban, densely-populated area. According to Dr. Christopher Marsh, director of the transplant program at Scripps Green Hospital, California, it was "too early to pass judgment on the reliability of delivering organs by drone". Redundancies were built into the overall system to ensure that the organ was protected even if some aspect failed mid-flight; these include backup batteries, backup rotors, and, for a worst case scenario, an emergency parachute.

"There's a larger goal at stake". One of the most crucial and complex steps in the organ transplant process, then, is transportation.

In 2018, about 1.5 percent of deceased donor organ shipments did not reach their destination, while nearly 4 percent of organ shipments were delayed for two or more hours, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. "This new technology has the potential to help widen the donor organ pool and access to transplantation", said Scalea. When someone who is on the organ donor list dies, their heart, lungs, kidneys, and certain other body parts can sometimes be rushed to a patient who needs a transplant, provided they are a match and can be reached quickly enough for the organ to remain viable.

Drone delivery could well be part of the solution, at least for the transport of organs across relatively short distances.

We hope that this new method of organ donation soon becomes more common, helping all those in need.

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