In a first, a pair of donor lungs destined for a sick patient has been delivered via autonomous drone.
The drone delivery occurred in Toronto in September 2021 in a customized aerial drone that flew 1.5 km in about five minutes, carrying its payload in a specialized lightweight carbon fiber box. Future flights could transport organs from airports to hospitals or take organs to centers where they can be bioengineered to better match recipients, says Shafique Keshavjee, a lung transplant surgeon at the University Health Network in Toronto and the lead author of a new paper describing the successful drone delivery.
Today, organs are shuttled between donor and recipient on jets at a cost of between $20,000 and $40,000 per flight, Keshavjee says. “In our hospital alone, which is one of the largest transplant centers, Toronto General Hospital, we do 700 transplants a year,” he says. “So that means 1,400 flights a year to go pick up an organ and bring it back, minimum.” Sometimes, Keshavjee says, a healthy organ goes to waste because it isn’t possible to scramble a plane to the location on time.
Keshavjee and his team began investigating how to use drones to do the job instead. The key challenge was safety, he says. Working with United Therapeutics, the researchers developed a...
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