Almost 38 years ago, the world’s first successful lung transplant was performed at the Toronto General Hospital in Canada. Today, that same hospital is part of a new chapter in medical history by receiving the world’s first set of lungs to be delivered via a drone.
The feat was made possible thanks to a collaboration between the University Health Network (UHN), the largest health research organization in Canada, and the Quebec airline company Unither Bio Électronique.
On September 25, a drone made a six-minute trip between Toronto Western Hospital and Toronto General Hospital, carrying a set of transplanted lungs for a 63-year-old engineer. The transplant went well.
UHN Chief Surgeon Dr Shaf Keshavjee likens this historic drone delivery to the first plane flight – which may not have gone too far but ended up opening the door to what the air travel today. He says Canadian press:
See [the drone] coming over the tall buildings was a very exciting time. I certainly heaved a sigh of relief when it landed and could see it was okay.
Well, everything went well because the people involved left nothing to chance. The Unither Bioelectronics team began preparing for this drone delivery almost 18 months ago.
A special container has been designed to withstand changes in altitude, barometric pressure, vibrations and other shocking events. There were training flights loaded with dummy packets simulating lungs. And the team even performed drop tests for the final drone and container, which was equipped with a parachute and an advanced GPS system.
As Mikael Cardinal, vice president of program management at Unither Bioelectronics for organ delivery systems, explains:
It takes courage to be the first to do something like this… but that courage must come with the highest level of security.
Watch the world’s first delivery of lungs by drone
Drones have already delivered organs
This may be the world’s first drone delivery of transplanted lungs, but delivery drones have already transported donated organs.
The very first organ drone delivery was made by the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, when a kidney delivered by drone was transplanted in 2019. Since then, MissionGO and Nevada Donor Network have sent corneas on a five-minute flight and a kidney on a 25-minute journey. Meanwhile, in May, a pancreas flew into the skies over Minnesota.
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