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Get to Know: Anoop Patel, Neurological Surgeon

Though Anoop Patel, MD, has lived in Seattle for the past four years, he still shows characteristics of his East Coast upbringing — such as always wearing a suit to work (even on Zoom calls).

“It has kind of become my calling card now. I worried that with a more formal environment, patients wouldn’t connect on a personal level, but I’m generally able to connect well with patients quickly. The suit becomes a unique talking point,” he says.

Patel is a neurosurgeon at UW Medical Center – Montlake, specifically the Alvord Brain Tumor Center. He is also a UW assistant professor of neurological surgery.

Let’s Get to Know Him:

Q: What made you want to become a doctor, and in your specialty?

A: I come from a medical family: Both my parents are doctors and there are lots of doctors in the broader family. I was drawn at young age to medicine because of being exposed to it so much. Where my past diverged a bit from my parents’ was the love I developed for the science and research aspect.

I’m honored and take pride in taking great care of patients and helping them through some of the most trying times of their lives. With their permission, I also get to take what I learn from them and use their tissue to conduct research that hopefully has an impact for that patient and for hundreds or thousands of others with that same problem.

Q: Why did you decide to join UW Medicine?

A: I grew up in the Northeast and stayed there for college and medical school. I came out here for a yearlong clinical fellowship and fell in love with the place. There’s such a rich academic environment, and the people are so unassuming and personable and willing to collaborate and share good ideas. I got hired here after my fellowship and haven’t looked back.

Q: What are some of your areas of interest?

A: In medical school, I became fascinated with brain tumors and the experiences of patients who have them. It’s one of the only situations where I’m viewing the disease through the lens of the diseased organ itself. Normally, if the patient had a tumor elsewhere it would be their brain telling me about their experience, but in this case the thing telling you what’s going on is also the thing experiencing the abnormalities. Brain tumor symptoms are unique from other cancers, such as personality changes and being unable to talk or write. They are incredible insights into how the brain works normally and under stress.

My clinical practice is a mixture of all different types of brain tumors, those that start in the brain and those that start elsewhere and metastasize to the brain. I also practice in skull base surgery, where benign lesions occur in high-profile places like around arteries or cranial nerves, which makes removal challenging. I do complicated open approaches as well as endoscopic approaches through the nose to take out really complicated tumors without an incision on the head.

My research is focused on glioblastoma tumors, the most aggressive and malignant form of brain cancer. It’s horrible because patients typically live only about 15 months after diagnosis. In order to develop better treatments, I try to understand why treatments up to now haven’t been effective. One reason is from looking at a tumor as a whole: In fact, the smallest fundamental unit of disease is not the whole tumor but cells within the tumor; it’s called intratumoral heterogeneity. I use single-cell analysis techniques to show that tumor cells are different from one another and respond to treatment differently, which means we need to design therapies that target individual types of cells.

Q: What are your goals for the department?

A: To continue to push forward the care we’re providing, getting better at expanding endoscopic and minimally invasive techniques, and to get my single-cell analysis research into clinical trials. I want to be able to tell patients there are better treatments for the disease they have.

I recently helped launch the new Brain and Spine Metastases Clinic at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance to create a dedicated group of neurological oncologists and neurological surgeons to treat patients who have tumors that metastasized to the brain. This is far more common than cancers that start in the brain, but the care of these patients is incredibly complex. At the clinic, we take a multidisciplinary approach to create a comprehensive treatment plan for each patient. My vision is to turn it into a center so we can also do research and develop clinical trials that are focused on identifying novel treatments for these patients.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not working?

A: My family and I love all the outdoorsy Pacific Northwest stuff: camping, hiking, skiing. I had the joy this season of getting my 3-and-a-half-year-old son out on skis for the first time. I love cooking all kinds of food: Indian, Japanese, Italian and fusion cuisine. Especially now that we’re not traveling anywhere because of the pandemic, cooking is what we do on the weekends. I recently made fresh pasta with my son; we started from scratch.

Q: What’s something that most people don’t know about you?

A: I am a really avid scuba diver. I’ve done over 200 dives across various places around the world. I love the ocean in general. When I’m 100 feet under I feel like I’m on another planet. I go there to find peace and happiness and quiet.

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