Researchers test 'Uber for organs' in first successful organ delivery by drone

Researchers test 'Uber for organs' in first successful organ delivery by drone
© Greg Nash

Researchers at the University of Maryland have successfully tested the first organ transplant delivery by drone.

An unmanned aircraft delivered a kidney to the University of Maryland Medical Center, where surgeons then transplanted it into a patient with kidney failure, the university's medical center said Friday.

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Assistant professor Joseph R. Scalea told The New York Times that he was consistently frustrated about the amount of time it took to get organs to patients since organs become less healthy the longer they are in between a donor and recipient.

He told the newspaper about one instance where it took 29 hours for an organ to arrive.

“Had I put that in at nine hours, the patient would probably have another several years of life,” Scalea told the Times. “Why can’t we get that right?

“We can monitor in real time,” he added. “It’s like Uber for organs.”

The drone delivery was a collaboration between transplant physicians and researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, aviation and engineering experts at the University of Maryland, the University of Maryland Medical Center and collaborators at the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland.

“As a result of the outstanding collaboration among surgeons, engineers, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), organ procurement specialists, pilots, nurses, and, ultimately, the patient, we were able to make a pioneering breakthrough in transplantation,” Scalea said in a statement.

The university told The Hill that the drone traveled 2.8 miles.

The patient who received the kidney called the advancement "amazing." 

"Years ago, this was not something that you would think about," the 44-year-old woman from Baltimore said in a statement.