Italy to stage Europe’s first drone test flights of transplant kidneys to hospitals

drone kidney transplant

A group of research organizations in Italy is set to run experiments using drones to transport human kidneys – the first time in Europe the craft will be tested to deliver human organs in simulated transplant situations.

First ever European flights of kidneys in transplant scenarios by drones

The trial flights are slated to begin later this month in Turin, where drones will be used to transport kidneys that would usually be rushed by ground ambulances. The unprecedented experiments in Europe using uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV) to deliver human organs hope to replicate successful US tests conducted in Maryland. After initial mock runs in 2018, a 2019 flight delivered a kidney that surgeons immediately transplanted to a waiting patient. 

Earlier this year, meanwhile, officials in Minnesota conducted a trial drone flight to deliver a pancreas – the first of its kind. As occurred in the 2018 Maryland tests, biopsies of the Minnesota organ showed no damage caused by UAV transport. Sensors monitoring the real 2019 kidney transplant flight, moreover, registered fewer and lower-level vibrations potentially effecting the tissue in drone transportation than in road options.

Italian experts from academic, medical, and governmental organizations participating in the Turin trials hope to come up with similar results.

“Transporting organs is an essential part of the transplant process (and) carrying them on ambulances means dealing with traffic and time constraints,” Antonio Amoroso, coordinator of Turin’s Piedmont region’s transplantation center told “We wanted to find new ways for transporting organs so that we can increase safety levels for our patients as well as the quality of our services.”

The Piedmont region leads Italy in the number of kidney transplants annually. In 2020, the area conducted 244 of the operations out of the national total of 1937. Each one of those involves preparatory blood, organ, and compatibility tests shuttled between hospitals and labs that drones may also be able to speed up – and at lower costs.

This month’s trials are being funded by a grant from Italy’s Organ Donation and Transplantation Foundation. They’ll be conducted by experts the Polytechnic of Turin, the University of Turin, and the Italian Civil Aviation Authority.

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