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A Donor Kidney Has Been Transported By Drone For The First Time

In a world-first operation, a donor kidney has been transported by drone, cutting down the valuable time needed to ensure successful transplantation.

The kidney was delivered to 44-year-old Trina Glispy, who had waited eight years for the transplant.

Glispy said that the whole experience was "amazing" and noted that "years ago, this was not something that you would think about".

Doctor Darryll J. Pines, Dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering, who collaborated on the project, said that while the project is an "astonishing" breakthrough, it's "ultimately not about the technology, it's about enhancing human life".

Trina Glispy awaiting surgery. Source: University of Maryland.

The project was a collaboration between the University of Maryland's Schools of Medicine and Engineering with the intention of limiting the time between explant and implant of organs, opening the door for more viable, life-saving organs to be available to patients.

The researchers also believe that using a drone to transport organs is far more cash-efficient and accessible than traditional vehicle transport methods.

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Nearly 114,000 patients are currently awaiting organ donation in the U.S.. At any given time in Australia, the organ donor list has approximately 1,400 people.

Approximately 4 percent of these critical organ transplants in the U.S. are delayed by two or more hours due to unanticipated problems with flights or vehicles.

Drone on Hospital helicopter pad. Source: University of Maryland.

A specialised drone needed to be developed that monitored the health of the kidney in transit and also adhered to the drone guidelines of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

This included a monitoring system that was developed specifically for the drone. Known as the Human Organ Monitoring and Quality Assurance Apparatus for Long-Distance Travel (or HOMAL), the system measures the key indicators of the organ's status in flight.

The temperature, altitude and vibration that the organ is experiencing are all then sent to a smart phone so transplant personnel can keep track of its status.

Drone mid-flight. Source: University of Maryland.

Doctor Joseph Scalea, assistant professor of surgery at the School of Medicine, said that when the scientists started the project they "quickly realised there were a number of unmet needs in organ transport".

"Even in the modern era, human organs are unmonitored during flight. I found this to be unacceptable. Real-time organ monitoring is mission-critical to this experience."

Source: University of Maryland.

The researchers who collaborated on the project said that this prototype flight has blazed the trail for the use of more drone systems, which will not only help patients but also alleviate pressure on the medical transport industry during these critical operations.