Organ deliveries must be among the most time-sensitive deliveries known to man. The more time it takes to get an organ from its donor to a patient, the greater the risk of a failed transplantation. Dr. Joseph Scalea had been looking for a better and more importantly, faster way of getting life-saving organs to his patients. This first test in which a DJI Matric 600 Pro drone successfully delivered a kidney, may be an indication that he has found one.

DJI Mavic Pro

DJI Matrice 600 Pro delivers kidney

Dr. Joseph Scalea, a transplant surgeon, thought there had to be a better and faster way to get life-saving organs to his patients.

“I frequently encounter situations where there’s simply no way to get an organ to me fast enough to do a transplant, and then those life-saving organs do not get transplanted into my patient,” says Dr. Joseph Scalea of the University of Maryland Medical Center, according to IEEE Spectrum. “And that’s frustrating, so I wanted to develop a better system for doing that.”

Scalea organized a group of researchers, including associates at the University of Maryland’s Department of Aerospace Engineering to find out if organs could successfully be delivered by drone. The team selected the DJI Matrice 600 Pro for the task, presumingly for its weight carrying ability and speed, but also because the rotors and motors are far away from the cooled organ-carrying compartment. It is important to keep the organ cool and thus to keep any heat emitting sources as far away as possible.

The team also designed a specialized wireless biosensor, called the Human Organ Monitoring and Quality Assurance Apparatus for Long-Distance Travel (Homal), to measure temperature, barometric pressure, altitude, vibration, and GPS location of the organ during transportation. They were now ready to test their organ delivered by drone method.

Testing with drone to deliver a kidney

The testing took place in May of this year, but the results were only recently published in the IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine on November 6th. The team performed 14 flight missions in a little over an hour. The longest distance flown was 2,415 meters or about 1.5 miles. The kidney used during these tests was not healthy enough to be used for an actual transplant. Biopsies of the organ performed before and after the drone deliveries showed that there was no damaged as a result of the transportation by drone.

The team believes this is the first time a potentially life-saving organ, a kidney, has been successfully delivered with a drone.

“I think that what we did here is very cool, very exciting,” says Scalea. “This is the first step among a series that I think will get patients closer to their life-saving organs quicker, and with better outcomes.”

Of course, to be able to use drones to deliver organs there are still a few legal hurdles that must be overcome. Currently, the FAA rules do not allow drones to be flown beyond-visual-line-of-sight, at night or over crowds of people without the necessary waivers. However, Scalea says that:

“Based on the national discussion about drone technology, I think that these things are going to be addressable and that we will be able to overcome each of them. Not without hard work, but I do think we can do it.”

UAS Integration Pilot Program

And that after working for three years on this project, he is ‘thrilled’ that his team has proven that drones can successfully be used to deliver life-saving organs. Will we see drones making such deliveries any time soon? Well, hopefully, yes. Currently, there is the UAS Integration Pilot Program that takes place at 10 different locations throughout the country to allow testing of various drone applications. These tests need to provide the FAA with relevant feedback to help frame the required regulations to implement commercial drone applications on a larger scale.

What do you think about organ delivery by drone? Let us know in the comments below.

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