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Maryland Test Confirms Drones Can Safely Deliver Human Organs

When a patient who needs an organ transplantation is finally matched with a donor, every second matters. A longer wait between when an organ is removed from a donor and when it is placed into a recipient is associated with poorer organ function following transplantation.

To maximize the chances of success, organs must be shipped from A to B as quickly and as safely as possible—and a recent test run suggests that drones are up to the task.

One transplant surgeon’s personal experience at the operating table, waiting for organs to arrive, prompted him to think of new forms of delivery. “I frequently encounter situations where there’s simply no way to get an organ to me fast enough to do a transplant, and then those life-saving organs do not get transplanted into my patient,” says Dr. Joseph Scalea of the University of Maryland Medical Center. “And that’s frustrating, so I wanted to develop a better system for doing that.”

He organized a group of researchers, including associates at the University of Maryland’s Department of Aerospace Engineering, to explore whether organ delivery by drone was feasible. They selected a DJI M600 Pro for the experiment because its six motors lie directly below their respective rotors. That would keep the rotors far away from where a smart cooler containing an organ would dangle, and that separation would spare the organ from any heat emitted by the motors.

Next, the team designed a specialized wireless biosensor, called the Human Organ Monitoring and Quality Assurance Apparatus for Long-Distance Travel (Homal), to measure temperature, barometric pressure, altitude, vibration, and GPS location of the organ while it’s en route. With the drone and wireless biosensor ready, all the researchers needed was an organ to complete the experiment.

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