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In a first, drone delivers kidney for successful transplant saving 44-year-old Baltimore woman

The drone delivery has been characterized as a "pioneering breakthrough" advancement in human medicine and aviation technology by the University of Maryland
UPDATED MAR 24, 2020
(Source : Getty Images)
(Source : Getty Images)

Last week a GE Aviation unit took part in the world's first ever drone delivery of a donor kidney for an actual human transplant. The flight was led by the University of Maryland UAS test site at the St. Mary's County. 

The drone delivery has been characterized as a "pioneering breakthrough" advancement in human medicine and aviation technology by the University of Maryland. The director of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site, Matthew Scassero, told WTOP, "It’s huge. We knew from the very first time that we met with Dr. (Joseph) Scalea, and he suggested the idea of what he wanted to do, we knew it would be earth-shattering and life-changing, and it really has become that."

The flight took place on April 19 over the city of Baltimore. A video clip depicting the flight also showed Dr. Joseph Scalea saying, "This is a major step toward reinventing the way that the current system of organs are moved. I think we helped a lot of people this way. It might take a long time, but it’s the first step."

It was the team effort which made the task possible and included assistance from aviation and engineering experts at the University of Maryland; transplant physicians and researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore; and the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland. The Federal Aviation Administration and the Baltimore police were also required to sign off on the flight. 


Scassero added, "It was a lot of logistics to make all that happen. The great thing was, because of the type of mission we were doing — humanitarian, for people — it was actually fairly easy to get everybody to nod (in) agreement that we need to do it."

The drone was able to fly the route by itself and carried a parachute, a radio tracking system,  a video camera and a box of sensors for the kidney which helped monitor the temperature, pressure, vibration, and location of the organ.

When the organ safely reached the University of Maryland Medical Center, it was successfully transplanted. The person who received the organ is a 44-year-old  Baltimore woman who has spent eight years on dialysis. She was discharged from hospital last Tuesday. 

Speaking of what could happen in the future, Scassero revealed, "We’re going to be able to save those organs, get them there quicker and get them into patients when they’re still viable. So, that’s 2,700 more patients that live, because those people who don’t get organs, they die."