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Forget Pizzas, Drones Can Deliver Kidneys Now

The drone in sunset sky.
By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 13, 2019

While many people can't wait for drones to deliver their pizzas, others are counting on them to deliver their organs. That's what just happened in Baltimore.

A drone flew a donor kidney to surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center. They then transplanted the kidney to a patient suffering kidney failure. The doctors were successful, and so was the drone. The delivery took about 10 minutes; the operation a little longer.

First-Ever Drone Delivery

It was the first-ever organ delivery by drone, capping more than three years of work to show unmanned aircraft can safely transport organs and tissue. Dr. Joseph Scalea, frustrated by the slow delivery times of commercial flights, gets credit for pushing the university project. "This new technology has the potential to help widen the donor organ pool and access to transplantation," Scalea said at a news conference. "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."

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, 18 people die each day waiting for organ transplants. There are about 113,700 people on the national waiting list. The Maryland patient, a 44-year-old woman, had been on dialysis for eight years before the operation. "This whole thing is amazing," she told the Baltimore Sun. "Years ago, this was not something that you would think about."

Drones Not Everywhere

Maryland regulates drones, and preempts local authorities. Some states prohibit their use for surveillance, safety, hunting, or other concerns. Many states have no drone regulations. In the breach of laws, criminals have used drones for smuggling drugs. Commercially available drones can carry up to 44 pounds. At $30,000 for a kilo of cocaine, that's about $660,000 a flight.

The drone project at the University of Maryland will lower the cost of deliveries. But reducing delivery times and covering greater distances, the system will also carry the most valuable cargo -- life-saving organs.

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