Maryland hospital confirms drones can deliver donated organs

Joseph Scalea, MD, physician at Baltimore-based University of Maryland Medical Center, organized a research group to test whether drones could deliver organs, after experiencing a lag in receiving organs for his own transplant surgeries, according to IEEE Spectrum.

"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," Dr. Scalea told IEEE Spectrum. "And that’s frustrating, so I wanted to develop a better system for doing that."

Dr. Scalea formed a group of researchers that included associates from the University of Maryland's aerospace engineering program. The team decided a DJI M600 Pro drone would best fit the experiment due the positions of its six motors and rotors. The research team wanted the heating elements of the motors and rotors far away from the smart cooler, keeping the organ safe.

The research team also used a specialized wireless biosensor, the Human Organ Monitoring and Quality Assurance Apparatus for Long-Distance Travel, called Homal for short, to monitor temperature, barometric pressure, altitude, vibration and GPS location.

For the experiment, the research team used a donated kidney that was not healthy enough for transplantation. For the drone's first test, the drone stayed in the air a little more than an hour over the course of 14 flight missions. The farthest the drone traveled was 2,415 meters, or about 1.5 miles, which is similar to the distance of shipment routes for donated organs between inner-city hospitals.

"I think that what we did here is very cool, very exciting," Dr. Scalea told IEEE Spectrum. "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."

Click here to read the results published in IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine.

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