A surgeon, an educator and a physician entrepreneur, James Wall, MD, has already accomplished more than most in his budding career. Recently named co-director of Stanford Biodesign’s Innovation Fellowship, he is an assistant professor of surgery at Stanford University where he focuses on minimally invasive approaches to children’s surgery. He has developed multiple medical devices, sits on the board of or advises several medtech startups and still practices surgery one day a week.
Discovering his path
James became interested in healthcare as an undergraduate student, while studying biomedical and medical engineering at Tulane University. He opted for medical school at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine out of a desire to have more patient interaction, and then pursued a surgical path specializing in pediatrics, which has remained his passion.
During his medical residency he took two years off to join the Stanford Biodesign Innovation Fellowship program, which opened his eyes to the possibility of combining his surgical interest and engineering background.
He had always been fascinated by medical devices and how they could be used to make a vast difference in patient care, which influenced his second career as an entrepreneur. As part of his fellowship, James launched and led InSite Medical Technologies, a medical device company focused on the safe and accurate delivery of epidural anesthesia during childbirth.
Spearheading innovation for pediatrics
“Pediatric medtech innovation has historically been overlooked,” said James. “When you look at FDA indications for pediatric devices, there is a startlingly low number that are designed or adapted for kids, which drives my ultimate goal of fostering the next generation of pediatric devices and improving pediatric healthcare.”
As part of this effort, James focuses on research and educating Biodesign students and fellows on how to design and develop health technologies. One of the most recent success stories is a company that spun out of the program — Novonate, which is committed to designing products that solve problems in neonatal care. Its device, LifeBubble, secures umbilical cord catheters while protecting the catheter insertion site. Recently commercialized, it has already been used to protect critically ill newborn babies. James notes that the favorite aspect of his career is interacting with patients and improving their well-being. “The ultimate reward is seeing a device go into clinical practice and help a patient,” he says.
James also plays an integral role in the UCSF-Stanford Pediatric Device Consortium (PDC), an organization dedicated to improving the health, safety and quality of life of pediatric patients by supporting the acceleration of pediatric device solutions. The group recently hosted the second annual Pediatric Innovation Showcase, where startups were invited to pitch their companies in a Shark Tank-style competition. “We were impressed by the strong pool of candidates this year and look forward to seeing our finalist develop the next generation of pediatric devices,” said James.
He adds, “I feel very fortunate to have been able to experience both the innovation side and what it takes to bring a device to market, which coupled with my perspective as a surgeon, helps me make better judgement calls on potential new technologies.”
Drawing on the resources of the Fogarty Institute
James met Dr. Fogarty when he was a Fellow at Stanford Biodesign, where Dr. Fogarty remains active in mentoring. He was an early supporter of James’ first company, InSite, and the two have maintained a close relationship ever since. During the program, James also met Eric Johnson, with whom he later co-founded Radial Medical, which is housed at the Fogarty Institute for Innovation.
“We have been focused on accelerating our path to market, and have been amazed at the support and mentorship we have received at the Institute,” said James. “The interaction with other companies, the educational aspect of the program and the one-on-one mentorship has been invaluable in advancing our company.”
In his spare time – what little he has — James enjoys being with his family, playing golf and sailing, including to his favorite spots in the Virgin Islands, where he can trek from sandy beach to sandier beach. He also plays guitar in a band, Midnight Rounds, which is made up of mostly doctors who played at last year’s Wine with Heart.