Break-through trials to evaluate the effects of innovative colorectal surgical technology

Feb 17, 2016

Dr Shinichiro Sakata’s formidable drive and passion to succeed has seen him awarded a full-time scholarship under Avant’s Doctor in Training Research Scholarship Program 2015. He will lead a series of trials to evaluate the effects of new colorectal surgical technology to improve health and surgical practices.

Currently completing his PhD at the University of Queensland, Dr Sakata, 33, already has an enviable track record as a researcher with 15 first-author publications in peer-reviewed journals. A fourth year trainee in general surgery, he also works as a Basic Laparoscopic Training Course instructor at the Clinical Skills and Education Centre, Queensland Health, and is an Honorary Lecturer with the University of Queensland. 

 It all started with George Clooney   

Originally from Japan, Dr Sakata moved to Australia to undertake his medical degree at Monash University in Melbourne. Growing up, Dr Sakata was a huge fan of Dr Douglas Ross (played by George Clooney) in the TV series ER. “I wanted to be a doctor just like George Clooney,” he says with a laugh.

“Jokes aside, working as a surgeon is a privilege,” he says. “I especially like colorectal surgery because it demands mastery of a wide array of technology with consistent, meticulous surgical technique.”

Personal sacrifices made for research    

Dr Sakata has made some significant personal sacrifices in the name of research, having sold his house in 2014 to fund initial research trials. “Scholarships are notoriously difficult to come by because competition is so fierce – I believed in my work but could not risk it negatively being affected by chance and financial stress. I decided that the only way to securely fund two years of research without funding was to rent and sell my house – it was one of the most painful decisions I have ever made,” he says.    

Effects of 2D and 3D laparoscopic and robotic technology

Dr Sakata has undertaken research evaluating the positive and negative effects of 2 and 3D laparoscopic and robotic technology on the stress and performance of expert and novice colorectal surgeons, both in the operating theatre and in simulation. 

“My research explains the conflicting data in the surgical literature surrounding 3D surgical technology,” he says. “For example, we have learnt some technology biases negatively impact users and therefore, patient care on a population level.”

To date, three of Dr Sakata’s studies have been accepted for publication and the break-through results may have considerable implications for the optimal use of 3D laparoscopic and robotic technology by surgeons and theatre nurses.    

“The research will hopefully allow us to make informed choices about what technology to use. It is vital to discover the negative effects of surgical technology if used poorly,” he says.  

New products in colorectal surgery  

Dr Sakata also has a passion for evaluating relatively inexpensive innovations that are marketed for colorectal surgery.

“This year our team has concentrated on barbed sutures and non-cross linked biologic grafts used in laparoscopic ventral rectopexy,” he says.

In a world-first, he has also designed a 3D laparoscopic simulation tool which is currently being patented with the Clinical Skills and Development Centre, UniQuest and The University of Queensland.

Research supervisors provide sounding board  

Dr Sakata’s research is co-supervised by A/Prof Andrew Stevenson, Head of Colorectal Surgery at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. His co-supervisors also include A/Prof Marcus Watson, Executive Director of the Clinical Skills Development Service and Dr Philip Grove, a Senior Lecturer from the School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

Dr Sakata says he uses these “brilliant” individuals as mentors, advisors and sounding boards for novel ideas. A/Prof Stevenson in particular, has been a strong influence on Dr Sakata’s professional development.

“A/Prof Stevenson is an inspirational colorectal surgeon and researcher. He has led multicentre randomised trials, published in high-impact journals and is a journal editor,” he says. “Even with his success, he is constantly thinking of ways to improve colorectal surgery which is very motivating.”

Scholarship allows intellectual and financial freedom  

With an aim to be a colorectal surgeon, clinical researcher and a journal editor, Dr Sakata says the Avant scholarship has brought him closer to realising these goals and has allowed him to concentrate on his research without financial and intellectual constraints.

“Although my research relies on close collaboration with industry, they do not fund me. I am grateful that the Avant scholarship will provide me with the freedom to produce independent research without the need for industry support and conflict of interest,” he says.

The funding will also allow Dr Sakata to complete at least 12 papers for publication and to present them at international conferences. “These conferences are really important because they allow you the opportunity to engage with future collaborators and share research ideas. It is always important to find new ideas and conferences definitely help,” he says.

Scholarships foster culture of success  

On a wider scale, Dr Sakata believes that the Avant Doctor in Training Research Scholarships will foster a culture of medical success.

“The Avant scholarships are generous and this instills fierce competition. Many young researchers are likely to work harder, leading to higher quality research,” he says. “I hope that the Avant scholarships continue for many years to come.”

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