Drone delivers kidney for transplant surgery

A drone delivered a kidney to a Baltimore hospital in April, where doctors then transplanted the organ into a patient. It was the first live test of the kidney-carrying aircraft, designed by doctors and engineers at the University of Maryland to help speed up the transfer of organs.

The drone is a first of its kind, specially designed to not only transport, but protect its precious cargo.

“We have eight motors to provide redundancy in case we have some failures. There’s also a parachute recovery system in case the entire aircraft fails, we can still get down safely and the organ will be safe,” said Matt Scassero, director of the university’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site.

The test flight was a brief 3 miles (4.8 kilometers), but University of Maryland Medical Center transplant surgeon, Dr. Joseph Scalea said it represents the potential for many more lives to be saved.

“If you called me and told me you had a marginal kidney that I know would be a potential benefit to my patient, but that it’s not going to get here for a long time, we may say, ‘you know what? that’s just too much risk,'” said Scalea. “But now, in a system where we’ve innovated the amount of time that can elapse between the recovery hospital and the implantation hospital, we may be able to accept that organ. So we think as many as 2,500 kidneys per year could be added to the pool.”

The drone-delivered kidney was implanted into 44-year-old Baltimore resident Trina Glispy, who spent eight years on dialysis before undergoing the procedure.

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