Disease & Illness

A Drone Delivered A Kidney To A Transplant Patient For The First Time And It’s Being Called The ‘Uber For Organs’

This could be lifesaving!

A breakthrough in organ transplantation happened right under — or, rather, over — our noses in April when a drone transported a donated kidney to a waiting patient. Best of all, the surgery went well and the patient is at home and on the mend.

Experts in aviation and engineering at the University of Maryland worked with researchers at the university’s School of Medicine (UMSOM) and the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) to develop the plan for the drone’s flight. The research was done in conjunction with a non-profit organ procurement organization, The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland.

In a statement, the UMMC called it “a first-ever advancement in human medicine and aviation technology.”

The custom-built drone contains equipment to keep the donated kidney in good condition. The organ’s temperature is monitored and controlled. Extra power sources and parts onboard provide backup just in case. If the worst happens and everything fails, the drone deploys a parachute.

For its first big test flight on April 19, the drone traveled less than three miles with its priceless cargo. Trina Glispy, the 44-year-old patient waiting at the University of Maryland Medical Center, had spent eight years on dialysis while hoping for a transplant.

“I feel very fortunate, especially after watching so many people pass being on dialysis,” Glispy, a nursing assistant, told the New York Times. “I’m seeing a lot of people die and I’m like, ‘it’s taking so long, it might not happen for me, either.'”

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According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, more than 74,000 people are actively waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant of some type right now. In 2017, an average of 18 people a day died waiting. Kidney transplants comprise almost 59 percent of all transplants.

“There remains a woeful disparity between the number of recipients on the organ transplant waiting list and the total number of transplantable organs,” said Joseph R. Scalea, UMSOM transplant surgeon and one of the leads on the drone project, in the University of Maryland statement. “This new technology has the potential to help widen the donor organ pool and access to transplantation. Delivering an organ from a donor to a patient is a sacred duty with many moving parts. It is critical that we find ways of doing this better.”

Below, watch the dramatic video of the drone’s takeoff and perfect landing as posted to the UMMC’s YouTube page. You’ll also catch a glimpse of some important team members, including Scalea, fellow UMSOM transplant surgeon Rolf N. Barth and the history-making patient herself, Trina Glispy.

Given that organs become less healthy the longer it takes to transport them, this drone that the media has dubbed “Uber for organs” might potentially save many lives. This test flight could definitely be the start of something big!