Researchers in Canada for the first time delivered lungs for transplant using a drone. This is one of the most difficult organs for transplantation – it must be stored and transported very carefully, scientists say.

Bioengineering company Unither Bioélectronique delivered lungs to a patient for the first time. It was a test flight that took six minutes.

The lungs were transported from Toronto Western Hospital to the City General Hospital, where Dr. Shaf Keshawji, chief surgeon at the University Health Network of Canada, received the shipment at around 1am. He needed his lungs for a transplant, which he performed on the same day.

The researchers noted that the flight took 18 months to prepare. Moreover, organs have already been delivered using drones, but the lungs are especially sensitive to environmental changes during transportation, and most donor lungs become unusable due to insufficient oxygen saturation. Therefore, Unither Bioélectronique engineers have developed a special lightweight carbon fiber container that can withstand vibrations, changes in altitude and pressure in flight. The training included flight training and drop tests using lung simulators.

“This drone can improve the efficiency of organ transfer between donors and recipients, especially in congested urban areas,” the company said. “Through this project, we have created an important stepping stone to the future of organ delivery that will ultimately open the door to the large-scale deployment of larger fully autonomous, electric, environmentally friendly transcontinental transplant drones.”

The researchers added that every minute plays a role in organ transportation. The organ must be stored in special solutions so that it can be used later in transplantation. The human lungs and heart usually withstand transportation for four to six hours, and the liver and kidneys up to several days. Therefore, it is better to use drones, not land transport or commercial flights, scientists are sure.