Hospital carries out world’s first drone-delivered lung transplant

Recipient of organ was 63-year-old engineer interested in unmanned aircraft

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Wednesday 13 October 2021 18:35
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Lungs for transplant delivered by drone for 1st time: health network

A Canadian hospital has carried out the world’s first ever lung transplant where the organ was delivered by a drone.

The unmanned aircraft flew the lungs on a six-minute journey from the Toronto Western Hospital across the city to Toronto General Hospital.

The University Health Network and bioengineering company Unither Bioelectronique, say that the recipient, Alain Hodak, is a 63-year-old engineer with an interest in drones.

Surgeons say that the transplant was a success, according to UHN surgeon-in-chief Dr Shaf Keshavjee.

Unither Bioelectronique said it chose Toronto General Hospital because it completed the world’s first lung transplant in 1983 and the first double lung transplant in 1986.

“To see it come over the tall buildings was a very exciting moment,” said Dr Keshavjee.

“I certainly did breathe a sigh of relief, when it landed and I was able to ... see that everything was okay.”

And he added: “It’s very much like the first airplane flight. That didn’t go very far, but it really opened the door to what airplane travel is today.”

The University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore has previously carried out a drone-delivered kidney transplant, and US companies have also achieved it with corneas and a pancreas.

Experts say that lungs are particularly challenging for transplants and were one of the last to be successfully transplanted in humans, as 80 per cent offered are unusable.

Drone and biotechnology companies have been determined to establish faster deliveries of the fragile and temperature-sensitive organs.

Officials at Unither Bioelectronique say they prepared for the Toronto flight for 18 months and carried out practice flights with dummy packages.

They also performed drop tests for the drone, which was fitted with a parachute and an advanced GPS system.

“I felt that the karma of the universe would be right if the first ever drone transplant was also done at Toronto General Hospital,” said the company’s co-founder Martine Rothblatt.

“There’s so many problems in the world like climate change, war, just endless problems. But to be able to wake up each morning and just smile and say, ‘wow, another life was saved that day’... It gives me a sense of fulfilment.”

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