Hospital unveils new tool for organ transplants: drones

We have seen the future, and it’s going to save lives.

At the University of Maryland Medical Center, a woman received a kidney for transplant that was delivered by drone.

It was a test, but it was a real kidney being used to bring it to a real patient who needed it, the New York Times reports.

Here’s the future.

The drones solve a real-world problem of the length of time it takes a kidney for transplant to make it to the patient.

Dr. Joseph R. Scalea, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told the Times that a kidney from Alabama once took 29 hours to reach his hospital; it was decaying every minute.

“Had I put that in at nine hours, the patient would probably have another several years of life,” Dr. Scalea said Tuesday.

Trina Glispy, a 44-year-old nursing assistant from Baltimore, got the call on April 18 that a kidney was available.

She was, apparently, in no danger of the drone somehow losing her new organ, the Times said.

The drone used in this month’s test had backup propellers and motors, dual batteries and a parachute recovery system, to guard against catastrophe if one component encountered a problem 400 feet in the air. Two pilots on the ground monitored it using a wireless network, and were prepared to override the automated flight plan in case of emergency. The drone also had built-in devices to measure temperature, barometric pressure and vibrations, among other indicators.

Dr. Scalea called the flight “proof of concept that this broken system can be innovated.”

He added that current organ transport is “data-blind,” meaning doctors often cannot see an organ’s progress in transit. The drone allows timely updates on its progress, the way you might track an approaching taxi on your phone.

It will also reduce the cost of getting an organ to a hospital for transplant.

The developers will now work on flying their drones farther and faster.