Drone delivers kidney for transplant at U of Maryland

An unmanned aircraft system transported a donor kidney for the first time to Baltimore-based University of Maryland Medical Center for a transplantation surgery.

The drone flew 2.8 miles from a location in southwest Baltimore April 19 to deliver the donor organ, which came from Maryland, to the University of Maryland Medical Center, a health system spokesperson told Becker's Hospital Review. The drone was custom-built to monitor the organ in real time while in the air and to send updates to personnel handling the transplant. The kidney was delivered to a 44-year-old woman who had spent eight years on dialysis before undergoing transplant surgery.

"We had to create a new system that was still within the regulatory structure of the [Federal Aviation Administration], but also capable of carrying the additional weight of the organ, cameras and organ tracking, communications and safety systems over an urban, densely populated area — for a longer distance and with more endurance," Matthew Scassero, director of University of Maryland's UAS test site in California, Md., said in a news release.

The flight was a collaboration between University of Maryland Medical Center, UMD School of Medicine, UMD aviation and engineering experts and Living Legacy Foundation, an organ and tissue donation nonprofit organization. Prior to the April 19 delivery, the team developed and tested the drone system by transporting saline, blood tubes and other materials as well as a healthy, but nonviable, human kidney.

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