A test to deliver a functional human kidney to a patient by drone has been deemed a success.
Off-the-shelf commercial drones can successfully be used for human organ transport. That’s the conclusion of a new study by University of Maryland researchers published this month in the IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine. The researchers used a DJI M600 six-rotor UAS to fly a human kidney on a simulated inner-city, hospital-to-hospital transfer; a three-mile maximum route over the course of 14 test missions. Maximum speed was 42 mph.
The drone was fitted with a special organ transport case equipped with a wireless biosensor combined with an organ GPS. Temperature of the organ remained stable during flight, the drone flight offered less vibration (less than 0.5 g) than fixed-wing transport, and biopsies of the kidney taken before and after the flights revealed no damage.
The study concluded, “Organ transportation may be an ideal use-case for drones. With the development of faster, larger drones, long-distance drone organ shipment may result in substantially reduced cold ischemia times, subsequently improved organ quality, and thousands of lives saved” and that organs could be moved faster and less expensively with drones than with manned, fixed-wing charter flights, the current practice in many cases.
A team from the University of Maryland Medical Centre and the university’s Department of Aerospace Engineering ran the test.
The kidney was not healthy enough to be used in a transplantation but was available for research earlier in the year.
Over the course of a day, the kidney was attached to ice and shipped more than 1,600 kilometres.
Once the organ landed in Baltimore, the team loaded it into the container and had it travel 14 separate missions of various distances and profiles.
The longest of these was three miles, a realistic distance between hospitals in the area, and the top speed achieved was about 42 mph.
Dr Joseph Scalea, a transplant surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Centre, said he wanted to “develop a better system of organ transportation”.
The doctor told ITV News: “Many times receiving a donor is just not fast enough, and then those life-saving organs do not get transplanted into my patient.
“From the data, I can say that drone transportation is a viable option for the future.”
The “11cm x 5cm” kidney was given a biopsy before and after the four hours of testing, which included 62 minutes of flight time with the drone.
Dr Scalea continued: “It decreases the amount of time of the organ transfer and the organ implant which improves organ quality and the safety of transplant teams.”
He believes another test to actually deliver a kidney and transplant it successfully could be achieved “early in 2019”.
He added: “I am a very excitable person and the thought that this could be done was amazing.
“I think its incredible and the future is very bright and we hope to transport other organs like the heart, lung, liver and pancreas.”