For the first time ever, a drone has delivered a donated kidney to a transplant patient who had waited eight years for a lifesaving transplant. The kidney was then transplanted successfully into the patient, a few hours after the delivery.
The team that created this unmanned aircraft at the University of Maryland says it was a worldwide first and a crucial step to speed up the delicate and time-sensitive task of delivering the donated organs. It was only a short test flight that took around 10 minutes to cover a distance of 2.7 miles from Baltimore’s St. Agnes Hospital to the University of Maryland (UMD) medical center.
The kidney recipient, a 44-year-old woman from Baltimore said, “This whole thing is amazing. Years ago, this was not something that you would think about.” She has discharged a few days afterward.
Typically, donor organs are delivered by either chartered or commercial flights. This process may sometimes takes more time due to the traffic and also there are chances to left the organ in the plane accidentally. Organ transport is particularly sensitive and can survive for only a few hours outside the body, so timing is crucial. So, this method by delivering the organ by drone will definitely speed up the things.
Unmanned Aircraft, a custom-built model was equipped with eight rotors for ensuring stability. Also, the team has created a special apparatus able to measure and maintain temperature, barometric pressure, altitude, vibration, and location. This ensures that the organ was kept in the best possible condition during the flight. Backup propellers and motors, dual batteries, a backup power distribution board, and a parachute recovery system were included, in case the entire aircraft fails.
“We built in a lot of redundancies because we want to do everything possible to protect the payload,” said Anthony Pucciarella, director of operations at the test site.
Initially, the researcher team started by transporting saline, blood tubes, and other materials, before working their way up to transporting a healthy but nonviable human kidney.
“As astonishing as this breakthrough is from a pure engineering point of view, there’s a larger purpose at stake. It’s ultimately not about the technology; it’s about enhancing human life,” said Darryll J. Pines, dean of the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering. He believes the new technology has the potential to help widen the donor organ pool and provide greater access to transplantation.
This wasn’t the first time when the drone was used to deliver the medical supplies and that too in a very carefully controlled storage environment. Before this, the drones have been used to deliver medicines in Ghana and vaccines in Vanuatu.