Organ transplants are serious business. Not only is the waiting list long, but logistics behind this life-saving process often leave many patients with delays and complications. Every second counts, and organs arriving on time can mean the difference between a patient surviving one more day versus several years. With so much at stake, medical researchers continue to fight an uphill battle as they develop new ways to safely transport organs when needed.
Well, transplant patients may have found their logistical answer in an unlikely place: aerial drones. Unlike transportation by ambulance, drones can avoid traffic and obstacles using flight, as well as allow hospital staff to remotely monitor the condition and temperature of their precious cargo.
For the first time in history, researchers in Maryland have successfully flown a kidney to a transplant patient using an aerial drone. This breakthrough has the potential to extend and save countless lives, and doctors are hoping this opens the door for even more innovations in the medical field.
Why are drones superior for organ transportation
Traditionally, transplant patients awaiting an organ from offsite have to rely on ambulances to deliver them. Here’s the tricky part: the pool of available organs is small, and many of them aren’t near hospitals where patients are staying. This means organ transportation can sometimes take multiple hours — even days on some occasions.
A drone, on the other hand, is able to fly over traffic — eliminating many of the obstacles and pitfalls that ambulance drivers face.
Drones can be outfitted with sensors that monitor the condition of the organ, and hospital staff has direct control over the vehicle’s flight and trajectory. This not only saves time on delivery, but also frees up hours of time from ambulance drivers, who can now devote their attention to emergencies.
How did a drone deliver a kidney to a patient?
The drone delivery project was the brainchild of Dr. Joseph R. Scalea, who works with transplant patients at the University of Maryland near Baltimore.
According to Dr. Scalea, some organ deliveries can delay vital components for extensive amounts of time. One incident in particular took 29 hours for a hospital to receive an organ, which inspired Dr. Scalea to research new ways of transportation between doctors and hospitals.
The world’s first drone-powered organ delivery was a 10 minute flight over 2.7 miles of terrain outside of Baltimore.
Surprisingly, this flight was their first attempt with an actual organ, and ended up saving the life of a nursing assistant who needed a new kidney as soon as possible. The drone had previously undergone test flights and analysis. Successes in those fields let hospital staff feel comfortable with using it for a real delivery.
The future of organ transplants?
The success of Dr. Scalea’s drone delivery is opening up endless possibilities for doctors and patients awaiting an organ transplant.
With how quickly biological tissue degrades, viable organs are often disqualified for patients due to distance and travel time. Not all patients can afford to go where their potential organ is located, and ambulances are already extremely costly for families of transplant patients.
Travel by aerial drone will cut down on time and distance between hospitals, and allow the small pool of available organs to grow for patients across the country.
As drones get more advanced, autonomous aerial delivery will only become more commonplace for consumers and patients alike. Not only will your Amazon packages potentially come from drones, but your medical supplies may arrive by air as well. The sky’s the limit!