The University of Maryland Medical Center received a historic delivery at its Shock Trauma heliport last week: a human kidney, delivered by drone.
The first-of-its-kind delivery was made by the LG-1,000, a 50-pound drone created by the university’s School of Medicine specifically to transport organs, CBS Baltimore reports.
The kidney was successfully transplanted into the patient, a 44-year-old woman who had been on dialysis for eight years, after the April 19 drone flight. The drone monitored the organ’s status during the 2.8-mile journey from the Living Legacy Foundation in west Baltimore.
Researchers say using drones for delivery could revolutionize the organ transplant process, in which delays sometimes cause an organ to be unviable.
Before the flight, researchers conducted test flights with blood tubes and eventually a healthy but non-viable kidney, USA Today reports.
“There remains a woeful disparity between the number of recipients on the organ transplant waiting list and the total number of transplantable organs,” project head Joseph Scalea said in a statement. “This new technology has the potential to help widen the donor organ pool and access to transplantation.”
Scalea, one of the surgeons who carried out the transplant, praised the “outstanding collaboration” between “surgeons, engineers, the Federal Aviation Administration , organ procurement specialists, pilots, nurses, and, ultimately, the patient.” The current system, he said, takes “too long, it is unsafe and it is way too expensive.” (Read more drone stories.)