Researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) Medical Center and the UMD School of Medicine, along with aviation experts and engineers, made history last week by delivering a human kidney by drone.

In the span of a single flight, the UMD Medical Center made history by completing the first drone delivery of a kidney for a waiting transplant patient.

"This major advance in human medicine and transplantation exemplifies two key components of our mission:  innovation and collaboration," said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine.

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On April 19, 2019, the drone delivered the human kidney to a transplant team at UMD Medical Center in Baltimore from the UMD research facility in St. Mary's County. The delivery was coordinated by the UMD Medical Center in Baltimore, the UMD School of Medicine, and the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland.

The logistics of the flight and the drone specifications were coordinated between aviation and engineering experts at the University of Maryland and the partners listed above.

To ensure the safe transportation and viability of the organ, the drone was outfitted with special equipment including redundant systems for power and stability. Previous test flights were conducted to transport saline, blood tubes, and other materials.

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The successful delivery of this kidney represents huge strides in medical and aviation technology. By eliminating issues surrounding ground and air traffic, drone delivery shaves valuable time off of traditional transportation methods.

This is incredibly important in the delicate process of organ harvesting and transplantation and will also help overcome disparity issues in remote patient populations. 

"As a result of the outstanding collaboration among surgeons, engineers, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), organ procurement specialists, pilots, nurses, and, ultimately, the patient, we were able to make a pioneering breakthrough in transplantation," said Joseph Scalea, MD, assistant professor of surgery at UMSOM, project lead, and one of the surgeons who performed the transplant at UMMC.


For more information, read the University of Maryland press release about this historic drone delivery.

**All photos in this article are courtesy of the University of Maryland.