For the first time, a drone has delivered a kidney to a US transplant patient who had waited eight years for a donor.
While it was only a short test flight — less than three miles in total — the team that created the drone at the University of Maryland says it was a worldwide first and a crucial step in its quest to speed up the delicate and time-sensitive task of delivering donated organs.
The recipient of the kidney, Trina Glispy, made a full recovery and is now living life without dialysis — just a few days after the operation took place on April 18.
In the first-ever advancement in human medicine and aviation technology, a Univ. of Md. unmanned aircraft delivered a donor kidney to surgeons @UMMC for successful transplantation into a patient w/ kidney failure. @UMmedschool @UofMaryland @TheLLF https://t.co/4xHfKAf32O pic.twitter.com/3w36uMq8wx
— Univ. of Maryland Medical Center (@UMMC) April 26, 2019
The project was created by Dr Joseph R. Scalea, who also did the transplant procedure. He told the New York Times that he launched the venture with aviation and engineering experts from UMD after experiencing numerous organ delivery delays.
While it might seem reckless to do a test with a live organ, UMD carried out 44 test flights over 700 hours and took every possible precaution. “We built in a lot of redundancies because we want to do everything possible to protect the payload,” said Anthony Pucciarella, director of the UMD test operation.
That included backup propellers and motors, dual batteries, a backup power distribution board, and a parachute recovery system. The team also got logistics and flight tracking support from AiRXOS, a GE Aviation division working on drone infrastructure and support services.