Hospital unveils new tool for organ transplants: drones

We have seen the future, and it’s going to save lives.

At the University of Maryland Medical Center, a woman received a kidney for transplant that was delivered by drone.

It was a test, but it was a real kidney being used to bring it to a real patient who needed it, the New York Times reports.

Here’s the future.

The drones solve a real-world problem of the length of time it takes a kidney for transplant to make it to the patient.

Dr. Joseph R. Scalea, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told the Times that a kidney from Alabama once took 29 hours to reach his hospital; it was decaying every minute.

“Had I put that in at nine hours, the patient would probably have another several years of life,” Dr. Scalea said Tuesday.

Trina Glispy, a 44-year-old nursing assistant from Baltimore, got the call on April 18 that a kidney was available.

She was, apparently, in no danger of the drone somehow losing her new organ, the Times said.

The drone used in this month’s test had backup propellers and motors, dual batteries and a parachute recovery system, to guard against catastrophe if one component encountered a problem 400 feet in the air. Two pilots on the ground monitored it using a wireless network, and were prepared to override the automated flight plan in case of emergency. The drone also had built-in devices to measure temperature, barometric pressure and vibrations, among other indicators.

Dr. Scalea called the flight “proof of concept that this broken system can be innovated.”

He added that current organ transport is “data-blind,” meaning doctors often cannot see an organ’s progress in transit. The drone allows timely updates on its progress, the way you might track an approaching taxi on your phone.

It will also reduce the cost of getting an organ to a hospital for transplant.

The developers will now work on flying their drones farther and faster.

  • MrE85

    They are also useful for so many things:farming, firefighting, getting medicine, food and water to people isolated by natural disasters…

    • DotWonder

      how could a drone have handled that cave in Thailand I wonder? i suspect controlling the speed is the big thing (so it doesn’t bust up running into cave walls, for example)

  • Guest

    Was this within one city? Is this expected to work across several states?

    IF something went wrong, the time to simply recover an organ and place it in another drone may be a deep downside. Hours count as organs decay.

    • Barton

      I can see how this would work within a metro area, as you point out. A drone flying from one side of NYC to the other side could certainly save time versus driving it (though I think they go by helicopter per every TV show based in NYC ever). But across state lines or multiple states? I just don’t know.

    • jon

      Compare it to the current method of long range organ travel, not against an ideal solution where everything always goes well.

      If something goes wrong in flying a kidney on commercial airlines … then it still takes a long time to recover it…

      to really make a judgement call we’d need some statistics for how often things would go wrong.

    • John

      Doesn’t our military routinely use drone to fly many miles and deliver, um, cargo to hostile places?

      I don’t think distance is the biggest issue.