The drone delivery of the human lung took place in September of 2021, but a team of Canadian researchers only released the paper in Science Robotics today.
The lung was transported by drone from Toronto Western Hospital to Toronto General Hospital, which is located 1.24 miles away.
While 1.24 miles might not seem like a very great distance, but when transporting human organs, time is of the essence, and a drone will not have to deal with any inner-city traffic.
“The moment an organ is removed from the human body, it begins to rapidly deteriorate,” the authors of the research article explained. “Failure to deliver and transplant an organ in a timely manner can result in a missed opportunity to save a life.”
The human lung was transported with the help of a DJI Matrice 600 Pro, which had been modified for medical transport.
Modified DJI Matrice 600 Pro for medical delivery
The M600's original landing gear and cargo rack were removed so that the crew could attach a specially constructed lung transfer box.
The team also improved the drone's electrical systems for better communication to avoid being driven off course by competing signals,
Furthermore, additional safety measures were installed on the drone, such as a parachute recovery system, cameras, lights, and GPS trackers.
The drone was supposed to weigh no more than 50 Lbs, including the lung-carrying box and the lungs themselves.
The flight time between the two hospitals was around five minutes. The human lung was transplanted into a 63-year-old patient with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (a chronic illness in which the lungs get damaged and breathing becomes difficult).
The patient recovered properly after the transplant. Though everything went successfully, it wasn't by luck; the crew conducted over 400 test flights of the route beginning in 2019.
The team participating in the drone delivery of the human organ believes that the experiment is just the beginning of a novel delivery technique that will become standard practice once drone regulations and infrastructure catch up.
After a series of successful tests, the team concluded that emergency drone transport is a realistic alternative.
“Even for short trips between nearby hospitals, drones offer a reliable transportation method that overcomes typical city congestion,” the authors said. “Thus, it is likely that all donor organs will be delivered by drone in the future, irrespective of distance from the transplant hospital.”
Photo credits: University Health Network/Unither Bioelectronics Inc.
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