Recently, a human kidney took its own way to the hospital - by way of drone. The organ, destined for transplant in an ill 44 year old from Baltimore, found itself as part of a larger project organized by doctors, researchers, aviation experts, and engineers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The project has also been supported by The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland, a nonprofit that helps to enable organ and tissue donation and their needed transportation steps.
The project aimed to investigate whether the problematic hiccups in organ transportation could be reduced or eliminated by taking to the (lower altitude) skies. Currently, organ donations travel by vehicle or commercial air, which is subject to delays and cancellations beyond the doctor's control. It's also critical that organs be brought to their recipient as quickly as possible. The theory is that by using drones, the organ can bypass the rush hour traffic faster, avoid airline delays, and get to the hospital faster. By getting organs to the hospital faster not only are the organs in better condition, they can come from further away too. This expands the pool of potential matches for very sick patients.
Currently, the technology relies on a specially built drone with expansive GPS tracking features, numerous power and propulsion redundancies, and an emergency parachute. Interestingly enough, this isn't the drone's first time carrying a kidney. Previous test flights involved transporting a nonviable kidney, blood samples, and bags of saline.
The use of drones for critical medical needs reveals an interesting intersection of where one science can help another - and the people waiting at the other end.
This article was based on a May 1, 2019 CNN article by Susan Scutti.