Q&A with Shyamali Singhal, MD, Medical Director, Cancer Center, El Camino Hospital

by | Mar 2, 2017 | Education, Mentoring

A Bay Area native, Dr. Shyamali Singhal has played a key role in assembling a team of highly skilled cancer experts at El Camino Hospital. Thanks to her strong belief and passion for combining the latest treatment and technologies with compassionate, empathetic cancer care, she has enabled El Camino Hospital to exceed national averages in curing patients or extending their lives.

In addition to spearheading the hospital’s cancer program and managing her own private practice, Dr. Singhal has been actively involved with the Fogarty Institute. She has worked closely with several entrepreneurs during their clinical trials at El Camino Hospital, helping them refine and test their technologies, and has mentored our summer Lefteroff interns.

We had the privilege of catching up with Dr. Singhal to discuss the benefits of working closely with innovators to develop an effective medical device, the importance of clinical trials and the value of mentorship.

Q. How did you first get involved with the Fogarty Institute?
A. I have always had a strong interest in research and I pay close attention to creating new ways to improve and cure diseases. I am constantly listening to fresh ideas coming through in our industry.

My passion for finding ways to advance the field I specialize in – cancer – as well as others, led me to work with several innovators at the Fogarty Institute to help them develop better products that are more useful in treating patients.

I am also a firm supporter of what Dr. Fogarty was trying to achieve when founding the Institute – innovation is critical to our industry and I believe that every professional should join in the effort to promote and encourage those on the front lines.

Why is it beneficial for physicians to work closely with medtech entrepreneurs?
A. It’s critical for physicians to work with medtech innovators so they can better understand the end customer and tackle a clinical problem with an effective solution.

As an example, recently a startup (not from the Fogarty Institute) showed me a device they had developed. While their concept was interesting, the technology was not effective because it could not be utilized appropriately when conducting the procedure.

This startup understood the clinical need but had failed to deliver a product that we could practically use. If their engineers worked with a physician in the early phases of their design, this problem may have not occurred and could have saved the company time and money.

When developing a product, it’s imperative to get the experts together and vet the ideas. So much innovation is designed without knowing what the customer, who in this case is the physician, needs or does, and it is simply not effective.

Q. What is the value of mentorship in innovation?
A. Mentorship is invaluable in helping entrepreneurs avoid common mistakes when developing their devices and to help get their products to market — and ultimately to the physicians and patients — faster.

I feel fortunate to be a contributor to the Fogarty Institute. There aren’t many women surgeons in the field, so I provide a different perspective and can be a “test case” on what devices work and don’t work for women in the medical field.

Also, being able to mentor students early on to help them identify their passions, as I do with the Lefteroff summer interns, is invaluable in shaping their future careers.

Q. Why are clinical trials so important?
A. Clinical trials are important in helping discover and test new treatment methods. Having the Fogarty Institute right here on our campus is very beneficial to both the innovators and our hospital: We provide the expertise of the physicians and nurses, and the entrepreneurs allow us to learn firsthand of new technologies that may help our patients.

For example, we have had a constructive experience with G-Tech Medical, the Fogarty Institute startup that is undergoing a two-year trial at the hospital to study their proprietary technology’s ability to record the electrical signals that naturally occur in the digestive tract and patterns of intestinal contractions and movements in individuals who undergo abdominal surgery.

The patches are non-invasive, and while the trial is currently only collecting data, the technology may help make better clinical decisions, including how to better assess when bowel function will be restored so we can set appropriate expectations with the patient in terms of feeding and discharge.

Clinical trials are also an important step of the regulatory approval process, without which the companies cannot get funding, which of course would stump medical advancements.

Our job as physicians is to help the entrepreneurs test and improve their technologies in a real-life scenario. Based on the success I’ve experienced with the new devices that I’ve been able to test from the start, compared to the bumps that occur when devices do not receive early intervention, the importance of collaboration is clear.

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