Almost 38 years ago, the world’s first successful lung transplant was performed at Canada’s Toronto General Hospital. Now, that same hospital has become part of a new chapter in medical history by receiving the world’s first set of lungs to be delivered via a drone.
The feat was made possible through a collaboration between University Health Network (UHN), the largest health research organization in Canada, and Quebec-based aerial delivery company Unither Bioélectronique.
On September 25, a drone made a six-minute journey from Toronto Western Hospital to Toronto General Hospital carrying a set of transplant lungs for a 63-year-old engineer. The transplant went well.
UHN surgeon-in-chief Dr. Shaf Keshavjee compares this historic drone delivery to the first airplane flight – which may not have gone too far but ended up opening the door to what airplane travel is today. He tells Canadian Press:
To see [the drone] come over the tall buildings was a very exciting moment. I certainly did breathe a sigh of relief, when it landed and I was able to see that everything was okay.
Well, everything was okay because the people involved didn’t leave anything to chance. The team at Unither Bioélectronique started preparing for this drone delivery almost 18 months ago.
A special container was designed to withstand changes in elevation, barometric pressure, vibrations, and other jarring events. There were practice flights loaded with dummy packages simulating lungs. And the team even conducted drop tests for the final drone and container, which were outfitted with a parachute and an advanced GPS system.
As Mikael Cardinal, Unither Bioélectronique’s VP of program management for organ delivery systems, explains:
It takes courage to be the first to do something like this… but that courage needs to come with the highest standard of safety.
Watch the world’s first drone delivery of lungs
Drones have delivered organs before
This may be the world’s first drone delivery of transplant lungs, but delivery drones have carried donated organs before.
The first-ever organ drone delivery was completed by the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, when a drone-delivered kidney was transplanted in 2019. Since then, MissionGO and Nevada Donor Network have sent corneas on a five-minute flight and a kidney on a 25-minute journey. Meanwhile, in May, a pancreas took to Minnesota’s skies.
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