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The New York Times: Like ‘Uber for Organs’: Drone Delivers Kidney to Maryland Woman

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A custom-made drone delivered a kidney this month to a Maryland woman who had waited eight years for a lifesaving transplant.

While it was only a short test flight — less than three miles in total — the team that created the drone at the University of Maryland says it was a worldwide first and a crucial step in its quest to speed up the delicate and time-sensitive task of delivering donated organs.

The team’s leader, Dr. Joseph R. Scalea, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said he pursued the project after constant frustration over organs taking too long to reach his patients. After organs are removed from a donor, they become less healthy with each passing second. He recalled one case when a kidney from Alabama took 29 hours to reach his hospital.

“Had I put that in at nine hours, the patient would probably have another several years of life,” Dr. Scalea said Tuesday. “Why can’t we get that right?”

To carry out the project, Dr. Scalea’s team of medical experts worked with colleagues in aviation and engineering at the university, as well as the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland, which oversees organ donations. He performed the transplant along with two other surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center, Dr. Rolf N. Barth and Dr. Talal Al-Qaoud.

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