Although the Las Vegas kidney was for research purposes only, scientists who took biopsies before and after the flight concluded there were no changes to the tissue architecture and cell viability.
“These flights are an exciting step forward,” said Anthony Pucciarella, MissionGO president.
Organs are usually transported via commercial aircraft, but the coronavirus pandemic has drastically reduced the number of flights available. United Airlines and American Airlines have slashed the number of their September flights nearly in half, and Southwest Airlines has cut 25%.
Dr. Matthew Cooper, director of kidney and pancreas transplantation at Medstar Georgetown Transplant Institute and vice president of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), says organs are discarded if no flights are available to transport them before they become nonviable.
A kidney can survive outside the body for 36 to 48 hours after it has been recovered, according to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.
“You can think about (drones) being pretty revolutionary in breaking down one of the obstacles to increasing the number of organs utilized and decreasing discards,” said Cooper, who is also on the National Kidney Foundation board of directors.
A study published in August 2019 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found the United States discards about 3,500 kidneys a year. Meanwhile, nearly 100,000 Americans are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, and about 12 people die each day, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
Drones also could shorten transportation time, decreasing the time an organ is outside the body and improving chances of function after transplant. Hours of traffic in a metropolitan area could be reduced to minutes via drone.
Cooper said unmanned aircraft not only could save the lives of recipients but also surgeons, who have died in plane or helicopter crashes on their way to retrieve an organ. In 2007, a transplant team of six University of Michigan Health System employees died after their jet crashed into Lake Michigan.
There were some limitations to the recent Las Vegas test drone. Ryan Henderson, lead UAS pilot for MissionGO, said the aircraft could hold only about 22 pounds,limiting the amount of ice the team would usually pack for a commercial flight.
But Henderson said researchers are exploring larger aircrafts to transport heavier cargo to include more ice, multiple organs and medical devices for organ preservation.
Sister company MediGO also is working to include GPS software that monitors the quality of the trip and the organ from the hospital’s operating room to the transplant center, according to the company’s general manager, Chetan Paydenkar.
Joe Ferreira, CEO and president of the Nevada Donor Program, says hundreds of flights are still needed to test the reliability and safety of drone delivery, but he’s optimistic the technology could be the future of organ transportation.
“Our ecosystem is a complex one. … There’s a number of things you have to prove to be able to ensure that it’s safe, effective and reliable,” Ferreira said. “We’re in the beginning stages of providing this mode of transport on behalf of the heroic donors and their courageous families.”
This article was sourced and repurposed from USA Today. To read the full, original article, click here.