Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

On Call with… Sanjay Chotirmall, Class of 2005, PhD 2012

31 January 2019

 

Sanjay“In the future, physicians will need a new way of learning that preserves the involvement of the human touch. The question for me is how can we use advances coming through the fourth industrial revolution such as digital e-health and artificial intelligence to deliver the best care for patients without losing medicine’s human aspects such as compassion and listening to patients which are so important.”

 

A globally recognised clinician-scientist, Assistant Professor Sanjay H. Chotirmall is Assistant Professor of Molecular Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Principal Investigator, Translational Respiratory Research Laboratory, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine in Singapore and Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer, Imperial College London.

 

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IN A NUTSHELL

Following my PhD in RCSI, I returned to Singapore and joined the faculty at LKCMedicine to establish a Translational Respiratory Research group with focus on infection, inflammation and immunity in the context of chronic inflammatory respiratory diseases that affect Asian populations. My lab is fully translational with my research informed by questions that are clinically relevant and determined from the bedside. We then perform well-designed experiments that use bench-based technologies to link directly back to the bedside and influence patient care. I have a motto that I’ve learned from my mentors: Research exists for patients not vice versa and this must be kept in mind as we take questions derived at the bedside and answer them at the bench.

 

YOUR CAREER PATH

I was born in Mumbai but my father moved us to Singapore before I was one. I finished my international baccalaureate and military service (mandatory for males in Singapore), and knew all along I wanted to do medicine. I was interviewed by RCSI in Kuala Lumpur over 20 years ago now and enrolled in RCSI, Dublin, graduating in 2005.

 

HOW DID YOUR EXPERIENCE IN IRELAND AND RCSI SHAPE YOUR CAREER?

By awarding me the College’s gold medal in microbiology and publishing in the New England Journal of Medicine during my time at RCSI, I can confidently say that RCSI clearly inspired my career trajectory. 

 Sanjay MMI

Dr Chotirmall receiving his ‘Molecular Medicine Ireland Clinician Scientist Fellowship’ in 2007

My specialist career then took on a specific focus in 2007 when I was awarded a prestigious ‘Molecular Medicine Ireland Clinician Scientist Fellowship’ during which I completed a PhD investigating the role of oestrogen in cystic fibrosis (CF). We knew that female CF patients did less well than males (an observation at the bedside) so I studied the effect of sex hormones on CF, particularly the role of oestrogen, a clear difference between the genders, at the bench. Knowing that the oral contraceptive pill suppresses endogenous oestrogen, we also looked at those CF patients on the pill and compared them with those not on it and noticed that the patients on the pill required far less antibiotics. I found the plight of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients in Ireland very hard to swallow. They were dying of a condition that, at the time of this research, we could do little about.

 

ON TEACHING

My role at LKCMedicine and also at Imperial College London means I am part of a very innovative teaching programme that employs a team-based learning pedagogy.  I participate as an investigator for key multi-centre clinical trials in the field of Respiratory Medicine and continue to teach undergraduates and postgraduates at both bench and bedside. I have editorial roles at the key respiratory journals including the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the European Respiratory Journal, BMC Pulmonary Medicine, the American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Respirology and PLos One.  I am sincerely appreciative of the opportunities afforded to me to speak regularly at national and international meetings. The burden of respiratory disease is significant all over the world. Air quality is a big issue and, in Asia, it is particularly variable. Winning national and international grants has allowed me focus on research, alongside my clinical work. 

 

KEY HOT TOPIC IN HEALTHCARE NOW

I believe the world is entering a fourth industrial revolution, with artificial intelligence (AI) a major player in medical machine learning processes that will in future aid the interpretation of biopsies, scans and other tests. In the future, physicians will need a new way of learning (and medical teaching), one that preserves the involvement of the human touch while keeping abreast of the latest technologies including multi-omics applications for precision medicine.

The question for me is how can we use digital health approaches to deliver the best care for patients without losing the human aspects of medicine such as compassion which is so important.

 

WHATS NEXT?

I have two main goals, the first to improve the health and quality of life of patients; and the second, to train and mentor the next generation of clinician scientists to continue the work we are doing long after I’m done.

Sanjay Family

"I met my wife, Amandeep at RCSI."

 

LOOKING BACK

At RCSI, I received an excellent education, delivered in a very robust way. We were very well trained by really good people. I got to learn in an environment with a global outlook, yet it was a genuinely warm and friendly place to be.

RCSI was importantly where I met my beautiful wife, Amandeep! We both love to go back to Ireland and RCSI and especially miss it at Christmas time when the temperature here is 35 degrees!

 

Thank you Dr Chotirmall.

 

'On Call' is our alumni interview series in which alumni supply the answers to our searching questions. If you have any comments, feedback, or would like to be put in contact with Dr Chotirmall please email alumni@rcsi.ie.

 

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