Drones Deliver Transplant Organs Between Hospitals

A modified, six-rotor drone was used to model situations relevant to organ transportation.

Above – first drone-based organ transport and an initial investigation of drone based organ transportation as a potential pathway towards expanding the donor organ pool.

To monitor the organ, University of Maryland researchers developed new technologies that provided the real-time organ status using a wireless biosensor combined with an organ global positioning system. Fourteen drone organ missions were performed.

Temperatures remained stable and low (2.5 °C). Pressure changes (0.37–0.86 kPa) correlated with increased altitude. Drone travel was associated with less vibration (less than 0.5 G) than was observed with fixed-wing flight (over 2.0 G). Peak velocity was 67.6 km/h (42 m/h). Biopsies of the kidney taken prior to and after organ shipment revealed no damage resulting from drone travel. The longest flight was 3.0 miles, modeling an organ flight between two inner city hospitals.

Organ transportation may be an ideal use-case for drones. Bigger and faster drones and long-distance drone organ shipment will greatly reduce cold ischemia times. This will improved organ quality and thousands of lives saved.

The amount of time an organ can spend chilled after removal and when it’s warmed up and the blood supply restored, called cold ischemia time (CIT), is very limited.

hortening CIT times with faster organ transportation could also expand the availability of organs across regions currently out of range. The national average CIT is 16-18 hours. With a fast enough drone, even a cross-country trip could be cut down to around 8 hours, potentially expanding the availability of organs such as the liver and pancreas to such a distance. Regional expansion would be especially helpful for harder to reach areas where CITs are routinely longer than 30 hours for kidneys, the recommended maximum CIT being about 24 hours.

Bigger and Faster Drones on the Way

The commercial DJI Matrice 600 Pro Hexacopter has about 20 minutes of flight time, a maximum flight speed of 40 mph, and a payload capability of about 13 pounds.

For long-distance organ delivery bigger and faster drones will be needed.

A mandatory line of sight is required for drone pilots under current laws. This regulation will need to change. Drones would be subject to weather constraints.

The fastest commercial drone can reach a speed of about 160 mph and 22 pound payloads are already possible.