Thursday, March 30 marks the 90th annual National Doctors’ Day, and we asked Joseph Scalea, MD, MediGO co-founder, transplant surgeon and vice chair of surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), to share thoughts about how he would like to celebrate the holiday that honors his profession.
“I’d like to issue a rallying cry to my physician colleagues and to those I work with in the technology field,” says Dr. Joe Scalea. “We have huge challenges to solve in medicine. We need more people who are willing to get out of their comfort zone to spend time in disciplines that are not their own,” he says. “I’d like to see more doctors working with entrepreneurs and more tech innovators working with physicians to solve challenges we face in cardiology, cancer and organ transplantation that deserve urgent attention.”
Scalea, age 42, has taken his own advice, writing more than 80 peer-reviewed research papers about topics such as organ allocation, transplant outcomes and the use of technology in transplant medicine. He’s won numerous awards for innovation, and helped to make history in 2019 when MissionGO, a company he co-founded with Anthony Pucciarella, led the first-ever drone delivery of a kidney for transplant. Dr. Scalea, then a transplant surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center, transplanted the kidney in Trina Glispy, a 45-year-old Baltimore resident, who had waited eight years for a successful match to become the first patient to receive an organ from an uncrewed aircraft system (UAS).
“Technology is cool, but let’s remember this stems from human need,” Dr. Scalea says while reflecting on that historic flight and the digital healthcare supply chain company he co-founded with CEO Scott Plank in 2020. “We started MediGO based on trust,” Dr. Scalea shares. “That trust helped to create a strong partnership. And that partnership is based on science and the desire to save human lives. And I couldn’t be prouder of that.”
MediGO’s solutions designed for organ procurement organizations (OPOs) and transplant centers are helping to lead the donation and transplant community in a new direction while building on existing efforts to improve transparency, increase equity and expand access to lifesaving organs.
“MediGO represents an intersection of technology, a combination of machine learning, artificial intelligence, data analysis and biology,” says Dr. Scalea. “It has the potential to revolutionize parts of the transplant system and beyond – and that’s incredibly exciting.”
Scalea began his career as a surgeon, developed a passion for transplantation and naturally found his way into transplant surgery. His efforts in the laboratory focused on better and more efficient ways to move organs. “We’ve sought to improve the combination of workflows and data sharing in a way that could help the industry and those innovations are the power behind MediGO,” Scalea says.
“What excites me about the future are transformational leaders like United Therapeutics CEO Martine Rothblatt. I admire how she approaches every problem with optimism, and the discoveries and inventions her team is making are inspiring. She is an incredibly mission-focused person who builds multidisciplinary teams around complex problems.”
Dr. Scalea sees enormous potential in biological innovations such as xenotransplantation and organ regeneration because they have the capacity to dramatically alter access to transplantable organs and will help us rethink what it means to have organ failure.
Our future, Scalea says, is a hybrid of technology and traditional medicine. “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about the incredible privilege I have to participate in people’s lives,” he says. “It gives me a lot of hope for the future, and I like to share this hope with my family.”
Scalea’s accomplishments are a source of pride for his family, too. His daughter Arden, who is 5, helped to make a surgical cap for Scalea, using needle and thread to customize the cap with her own title for her father, “Doctor Daddy.” Scalea reflects on the time his daughter came to work with him and interviewed him about all the instruments used in surgery, including forceps, scalpels, drivers and needles. Arden observed that sewing sutures was like stitching the title on his cap, showing just the sort of lateral thinking Scalea is calling for on this National Doctors’ Day.