Drone makes historic delivery of life-saving kidney for Maryland patient

Sommer Brokaw

May 2 (UPI) -- In a world first, a drone has delivered a donor kidney to a U.S. hospital, which resulted in a successful transplant.

The groundbreaking flight required a drone that could maintain and monitor the kidney, officials said. The unnamed patient, a 44-year-old Baltimore resident, was discharged from the hospital after the transplant last week.


"This whole thing is amazing," the patient said. "Years ago, this was not something that you would think about."

Doctors and University of Maryland researchers at the School of Medicine in Baltimore collaborated with aviation officials and engineers at the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site to complete the history-making flight.

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The Test Site formed in 2014 and works directly with the Federal Aviation Administration to advance research and operational capabilities. The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland, a non-profit organ procurement organization, also collaborated on the project.

"This was a complex process," Dr. Joseph Scalea, assistant professor of surgery, said. "We were successful because of the dedication of all of the people involved over a long period of time."

Prior to the flight, Maryland partners tested the drone by transporting saline, blood tubes and other materials -- and then a healthy, but non-viable kidney. Two years ago, Maryland's first civil drone delivery of simulated medical cargo indicated how drones can impact medical care.

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"As astonishing as this breakthrough is from a purely engineering point of view, there's a larger purpose at stake," said Darryll J. Pines, the dean of the Maryland School of Engineering. "It's ultimately not about the technology; it's about enhancing human life."

A North Carolina hospital is also developing drones to deliver medical supplies and samples.

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