Drones Bring New Hope for Organ Transplant Patients

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When thinking about drones, we often get hung up on the negative: like those news reports here and there about near-misses between drones and commercial aircraft… or privacy concerns over those low flying unmanned devices taking photographs without permission or recourse.

But drones have a softer side – and this latest story out of Maryland reminds us of the critical role that these devices could play in the healthcare industry.

The New York Times has reported that the University of Maryland is making strides in its quest to speed up the time-sensitive process of delivering human organs for transplant.

In April, a custom-made drone embarked on the first-ever test delivery of a kidney for transplant for a Baltimore woman who had spent eight years battling kidney failure and had “begun to lose hope.”

According to Dr. Joseph Scalea, the quality of a donated organ decreases by the second during the transit process. There are 113,000 people waiting for organs and, even though organ donation is at a historic high, medical professionals are frustrated by long lag times.

The drone used in this month’s test, says the New York Times, “had backup propellers and motors, dual batteries, and a parachute recovery system, to guard against catastrophe if one component encountered a problem.”

Built-in devices kept tabs on temperature and pressure, and pilots on the ground used wireless controls and were capable of overriding the automated flight plan.

After 44 test flights and 700 hours of flight time, this latest exercise “allowed the team to overcome logistical and regulatory hurdles involved in transporting a viable organ.” And though this test was a mere three-mile run, the group is intent on flying “farther and faster.”

Trina Glispy, a 44-year-old nursing assistant and mother who received the drone-delivered kidney, is nearly two weeks post-surgery and is reportedly doing well.

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