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US surgeon hopes delivering donor organs by drone will save precious time

Dr. Joseph Scalea is a transplant surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Centre who is on a medical mission - to see donated organs move more quickly between the donor and recipient. And he thinks that using drones are the way to do it.

"I find myself routinely frustrated that we can't get an organ here in time to do the transplant because the transportation of the organ is is literally dependent on the timing of commercial aircraft flights," he says.

"And I just I do not accept that as the best that we can do."

Earlier this year, Scalea's team, including members of the university's school of aerospace engineering, put a modified six-rotor drone through a series of flights to see if it could transport a real kidney the distance that's typically required to go between two hospitals in the same city.

The kidney wasn't suitable for an actual transplant, but his team wanted to use a real organ, so it could be monitored and provide data.

His team monitored the kidney with a wireless biosensor, called a Homal, that measured the organ's temperature, the amount of vibration that was occurring, and other aspects of the flight.

"The tests were done on a single day. We had pre-planned each of the specific missions. We did some where we just we had the organ drone hover for a period of time, and we measured all the extrinsic forces that occurred."

"Drone technologies are improving at a dramatic rate," he says. "And it's pretty clear to me that those technologies are going to get to the point very soon where we will be able to employ them in a meaningful way to transplantation transportation."

Scalea and his team have submitted a grant application to National Institutes of Health to move their research forward. Among other things, he's concerned with how the families of organ donors feel about using drones as a mode of transportation.

"This is one of the things that's going to help humans, help Americans, and help improve the outcomes of donated organs, and save thousands and thousands of lives," he says.

"I foresee short-distance drone travel as the first entrance of this technology into the world of organ transportation."


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