Mary Jane Rodes
Washington, DC (September 12, 2022) Recipients of the Kidney Transplant Collaborative (KTC)’s 2022 grant program are already making important progress to help increase kidney transplants and reduce barriers among patients and donors nationwide.
Earlier this year, the KTC announced the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA) as one of its inaugural grant recipients. KODA is using the funds to explore and test new technologies that would make it possible for kidneys to be transported on pulsatile perfusion pumps via aircrafts, with the ultimate goals of increasing organ viability and transplant center acceptance rates.
“The Kidney Transplant Collaborative grant is allowing us to explore innovative ways to increase the number of transplantable organs,” shared Brian Roe, Chief Clinical Officer for KODA. “We have been able to make some exciting steps forward already and feel confident in our ability to bring new efficiencies to the transplant system.”
Typically, kidneys and other transplantable organs can only be transported on-pump by automobile or charter flights, not on commercial planes, due to federal aviation regulations and pump technology limitations. This restricts the geographic footprint of where they can be sent after procurement and the patients who can ultimately benefit from the precious gift. KODA is working to change that.
“When a kidney is recovered, it is typically placed on a pulsatile perfusion pump, but eventually it must be disconnected and placed into a cooler of ice until it can be transplanted,” shared Aubree Hoskins, Surgical Preservation Operations Supervisor for KODA. “So, we thought – what if the pumps could be flown on any flight, so they can get to patients who need them most?”
As previously noted, organ perfusion devices are not currently approved by the FAA to fly unattended on commercial flights, resulting in limited distribution of life-saving organs. KODA is working together with Organ Recovery Systems (ORS), a leading provider of organ preservation products and services, to develop a solution that is compatible with FAA regulations to give hospitals more time to transport donor organs to patients in need, improving patient outcomes in the process.
Another challenge was creating an aviation-compliant tracking and monitoring system to provide real time location and status information. KODA partnered with supply chain visibility company OnAsset Intelligence to create a solution that not only tracks the organ’s location while in transit but also its temperature and vibration conditions all of which contribute to an organ’s viability.
OnAsset’s SENTRY 600 Flightsafe® device offered the right combination of real-time GPS tracking, and sensor data capture. Critically, OnAsset devices are approved for use on aircraft by all major U.S. airlines. “This partnership was perfect for us,” said Tommy Wittmann, Director of Sales for OnAsset. “We know how important these organ transplant gifts are to everyone involved, and we’re proud to deliver this critical visibility and play a role in these life-saving shipments.”
If the pump stops for any reason, there’s still a backup plan to ensure the kidney remains viable throughout transport. The organ is maintained at a temperature that is safe for up to 24 hours, and the GPS system on the OnAsset device makes it possible to locate the organ quickly to get pumping re-established as soon as possible.
In early August, KODA’s organ courier successfully test drove the pumps from Louisville, Kentucky to Cincinnati, Ohio to ensure they would work while in transit. The next step was a test flight. KODA flew the first pump to San Antonio, Texas with a test circuit used in place of a kidney. Finally, KODA flew the first kidney that was not able to be transplanted but authorized for research to New York the first week of September. KODA partnered with UPS Express Critical, also located in Louisville, to ensure all flight regulations were met and ensure the organs and pumps could safely travel.
“UPS Express Critical is responsible for safely transporting thousands of lifesaving medications, organs, blood and tissue. We are honored by the faith KODA has shown in UPS to design this solution, and bring together key partners in UPS Airline, ORS and OnAsset so we are able to transport lifesaving organs on a pump to the patients who need them most across the US.” noted Brian Beam, Senior Manager, UPS Express Critical.
KODA has also partnered with numerous Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs), hospitals and transplant centers to bring its vision to fruition.
“This has truly been a collaborative effort, and the progress we’ve made is only possible because of our many partners across the country working alongside us,” said David Dyer, Transplant Center Liaison for KODA. “We appreciate their time, effort and dedication.”
KODA expects the program to officially launch – with a viable kidney – sometime in Q4 of this year.
“We established the Kidney Transplant Collaborative to encourage stakeholders across the industry to work together and learn from one another. KODA’s efforts are a perfect example of what the transplant community can accomplish through collaboration and innovation, and KTC is honored to be funding such important work,” stated Lou Diamond, President and CEO of the Kidney Transplant Collaborative.
About the Kidney Transplant Collaborative:
The Kidney Transplant Collaborative (KTC) is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing kidney transplants and decreasing financial obstacles and other problems kidney patients, donors, and their families experience with the kidney transplant process.
Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA) is dedicated to saving lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation. KODA was formed in 1987, pulling together two hospital-based organ procurement groups, to establish a statewide educational and procurement network. KODA is an independent, non-profit organ and tissue procurement agency and was recognized by Louisville Business First as the Nonprofit of the Year in 2011. KODA currently serves 114 counties in Kentucky, 4 counties in southern Indiana and 2 counties in western West Virginia. KODA encourages everyone to join the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry because without the generous donor, transplantation is not possible. For more information, visit www.donatelifeky.org.