Drones could help trans­port or­gans

Doc­tors hope to use un­manned air­craft to speed up trans­plant delivery

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

At a South­ern Mary­land air­field, Dr. Joseph Scalea watched a drone car­ry­ing a kid­ney in a card­board cooler fly 3 miles.

The test flight, re­peated 14 times, was the cul­mi­na­tion of three years’ work by the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land Med­i­cal Cen­ter trans­plant sur­geon, who sees the un­manned air­craft as the ul­ti­mate method for de­liv­er­ing life-sav­ing or­gans from donors to re­cip­i­ents.

“I did a trans­plant where the or­gan flew 1,500 miles from Alabama on a com­mer­cial air­craft and it took 29 hours,” Scalea said. “That’s ridicu­lous. It could have been here in six. And yet that’s ac­cepted as how we do things.”

Or­gans don’t last long out­side the body, and de­lays and mis­takes mean some lose qual­ity or can’t be trans­planted. Scalea is frus­trated that the sys­tem re­lies on couri­ers, com­mer­cial air­line sched­ules and costly char­ter flights ar­ranged by lo­cal non­profit agen­cies. He cited a re­cent $80,000 char­ter to de­liver a liver to Bal­ti­more from Texas and an un­re­lated case in which a heart was ac­ci­den­tally left on a com­mer­cial plane fly­ing from Seat­tle.

That led Scalea to try to jump to the head of a move­ment already un­der­way to re­solve the tech­ni­cal, reg­u­la­tory and med­i­cal hur­dles to us­ing drones to shep­herd med­i­cal sup­plies such as blood, medicines and now See DRONES, page 12

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