University of Maryland's Schools of Medicine and Engineering First to Use Unmanned Aircraft to Successfully Deliver Kidney for Transplant at University of Maryland Medical Center

April 26, 2019

In a first-ever advance in human medicine and transplantation, an unmanned aircraft has delivered a donor kidney to surgeons for successful transplantation in a patient with kidney failure. Transplant physicians and researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) and the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in Baltimore joined aviation and engineering experts at the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Site, part of the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park to complete this landmark, 2.8 mile, 9.52 minute flight on April 19, 2019.

The research was also done in collaboration with The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland (The LLF), a non-profit organ procurement organization.

“As a result of the outstanding collaboration among surgeons, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), engineers, 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, who is the project leader and one of the surgeons who performed the transplant at UMMC. Prior to this transplant, Dr. Scalea’s team was the first ever to test the drone system by transporting saline, blood tubes and other materials between the launch site and the hospital helipad. Dr. Scalea also noted that the flight took place in an urban environment, over a densely-populated area. “This was a complex process. We were successful because of the dedication of all of the people involved over a long period of time,” he said.

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