Researchers look to drones as pathway to increase organ utilization

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University of Maryland researchers recently reported an initial investigation of drone-based organ transportation as a potential pathway towards expanding the donor organ pool.

To monitor the organ, 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.

Shortening CIT times with faster organ transportation could expand the availability of organs across regions currently out of range. With a fast enough drone, even a cross-country trip could be cut down, 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.

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.

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About the Author:

Corey Bryant serves as Director of Communications for The Alliance.
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