On the morning of Friday, April 19, the first ever organ to be delivered to a hospital by drone was successfully transplanted into a patient at the University of Maryland Medical Center, marking what could be a massively important step forward for medical services.
This is the result of three years of work to show that you can actually safely transport organs on an unmanned aircraft, the Baltimore Sun reports. It all started with Dr. Joseph Scalea, a transplant surgeon, who was frustrated with how expensive and inefficient he found traditional organ transportation. If an organ is going a long distance, it usually requires transport on a lengthy commercial flight or an expensive charter.
The delivery we’re talking about here was made by the AiRXOS company, which uses drone tech to help “government agencies, municipalities, regional aviation authorities and private sector operators,” according to its website. This was the first reported instance of transporting a replacement organ with a drone.
It was, admittedly, a short journey. The drone only travelled 2.6 miles for ten minutes, reports AP News. What’s important here, though, is that it’s the first step in perfecting this technology. To be able to start shipping organs via drone as standard practice, you have to be able to prove you can do it once first.
As of this morning, there were almost 114,000 people on the national transplant waiting list, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. There’s only a 50 percent chance that those on the waiting list will receive an organ within five years—and some people just won’t even get one.
Drone transportation won’t fix the shortage of organ donations, but it can help in cases of sensitive medical deliveries, and perhaps more importantly, bring the associated costs down. It can also reduce vibrations and the amount of time spent in urban or air travel, which is critical, since organs can only survive outside of a body for so long.