While not every payload is suitable for drone deliveries, urgent medical supplies are widely viewed as an early use case for unmanned aircraft systems. MissionGO Inc. and the Nevada Donor Network today announced two successful test flights carrying human tissue on Sept. 17.
MissionGO said it uses unmanned aircraft systems (UASes) to improve reliability, reduce costs, and increase transparency for sectors including healthcare and retail. The company is led by CEO Scott Plank and funded by Scott Plank Ventures Impact investments.
The Nevada Donor Network is a not-for-profit organ procurement organization (OPO) established in 1987. It is one of only 58 OPOs in the U.S. serving more than 3 million people in the state of Nevada and 113,000 potential transplant recipients across the country. The organization works with hospital staffs and community partners to promote research and provide support to donor families.
The Nevada Donor Network encourages Nevadans to help individuals in need of life-saving transplants through education, research, and action. The network is a member of Donate Life Nevada, an affiliate of Donate Life America, whose statewide efforts encourage Nevadans to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors.
MissionGo transports human tissue
The first flight transported research corneas from Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center to Dignity Health — St. Rose Dominican, San Martín Campus, about 2.3 miles away. This flight successfully demonstrated the viability, value, efficiency gains, and delivery speed of medical supplies and organs via UAS within an urban environment, said MissionGo.
“The success of last week’s tests launches us into the future of organ transportation and will enable us to be even more successful in the coming years,” stated Joe Ferreira, CEO and president of Nevada Donor Network. “The work we’re doing now to maximize the gift of life and health can only be amplified with the services that MissionGO demonstrated.”
Drone delivery sets distance record
The second flight, which delivered a research kidney from an airport to a location outside of a small town in the Las Vegas desert, marked the longest organ delivery flight in UAS history. This flight surpassed the distance of a historic flight in April 2019, when MissionGO team members Anthony Pucciarella and Ryan Henderson, in their roles at the University of Maryland UAS Test Site and in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center, delivered the first kidney by UAS that was then successfully transplanted into a patient.
The majority of organs donated in Las Vegas must currently be shipped to recipients in other states due to limited transplant programs available locally. MissionGO said its second flight test demonstrated a possibility for the future of organ transportation within the Las Vegas region.
The use of unmanned aircraft in a multimodal transportation chain will reduce the time between organ donation and transplantation, reduce the carbon footprint by using electric aircraft, and potentially expand organ procurement efficiency, saving more lives, claimed MissionGO. The Nevada aviation research is the beginning of a series of medical and aviation research flights with OPOs in other regions, it said.
“These flights are an exciting step forward — the research conducted during last week’s test flights are another data point to illustrate that unmanned aircraft are a reliable mode of transportation for life-saving cargo, and that MissionGO’s UAS are safe for both the payload and people on the ground — even at greater distances,” said Pucciarella, president of MissionGO. “We are grateful to be testing our technology with our partners at the Nevada Donor Network and look forward to what we can achieve together with more research like this.”
Contactless solution among drone benefits
MissionGO also said the tests showed the feasibility of a touchless solution, reducing the number of handoffs by transporting the human organ directly between hospitals through the air, in lieu of ground-based couriers.
While MissionGO is focused on unmanned aircraft operations, its sister company MediGO is focused on improving organ transplant logistics across all modes of transportation. Dr. Joseph Scalea, chief medical officer at MediGO, will analyze the kidney and corneas to study the transplant tissue architecture and cell viability before and after these flights. This analysis aims to clarify the effects that unmanned aircraft may have on human tissue and to confirm that organ transportation via UAS can be performed safely.
MissionGO has planned additional flight tests for later this year and throughout 2021 with additional OPO innovation partners across the U.S.