scientist in lab

Star Scientist of the Month- Dr Yashutosh Joshi

A passion for problem solving

26 October 2022

It’s a question asked of every school kid – what do you want to be when you grow up? Dr Yashutosh Joshi may have been just five years old but he already knew the answer – a heart surgeon. It was seeing his grandfather survive a triple bypass that first ignited his dream and a desire to give back to the community. This month’s Star Scientist is now a key member of the team working on the spider venom discovery led by the Institute’s Professor Peter Macdonald that has the potential to transform the field of heart transplantation.

Dr Yashutosh Joshi in the Institute's Cardiac Transplantation laboratory

What motivated you to pursue a medical career?

When I was five years old, my grandfather was admitted into Westmead Hospital and had triple coronary artery bypass graft surgery. I vividly remember my father explaining it to me and I was absolutely amazed by the fact that there were doctors out there who could stop the heart, then take a piece of vein from one part of the body and use it to bypass blockages in the heart. My grandfather survived and the whole process to me was so fascinating that every time a teacher would ask me at school after that: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, the answer was always “Heart surgeon!”

As I grew older, I grew interested in science and I realised I loved problem solving. I would also spend a lot of year 10 watching House. Even now I will randomly watch an episode and try and get the weird and wonderful diagnosis before Dr House and his team gets to it – but House always wins!

My grandparents and parents, particularly my father, always instilled the value of giving back to the community. These interests and values aligned to help me make the decision to study medicine at Western Sydney University – having mum’s cooking on demand was extra incentive for me to stay in Sydney for med school!

What made you focus on transplant surgery?

During medical school I did rotations in cardiac surgery and I was lucky enough to do an elective in Paris with an amazing group of surgeons at the Hôpital Européen Georges-Pompidou. I got a brief taste for heart transplant surgery there. The surgeons in that unit really helped foster my interest in research and thoroughly guided me in my first ever research projects. They taught me the importance of research in a field of surgery that is so dynamic.

Around the same time, in 2014, I remember seeing a story on how St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute pioneered the first ever DCD heart transplant (hearts from donors whose hearts had stopped beating) through the Heart-in-a-Box breakthrough. I was just a medical student at the time but it was very inspiring that in our own backyard, was an institution with a great reputation for research and at the forefront of transplantation. I knew that I would love the opportunity to work at St Vincent’s one day!

To now actually being able to be a part of that same team is truly a privilege. What I have also found particularly important is that there is a strong history of implementing research work done at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute into clinical practice and that support for research and desire to improve outcomes has been great to see. I have learned that so much in medicine is about solving complex problems in a team environment.

What’s it like to work with legends like Professor Peter Macdonald, Dr Paul Jansz and the surgeons at St Vincent’s Hospital?

Professor Peter Macdonald and Dr Joshi

It is really the opportunity of a lifetime. Professor Macdonald has been an amazing PhD supervisor with an incredible wealth of knowledge; he has always made himself available for me to pick his brains or ask questions – so many times I have called him after-hours or on weekends to ask even the simplest of questions and Professor Macdonald has made the time and has the answers. His passion for research work and clinical translation is one of a kind and underpins a lot of the work we do. I am very lucky to be his PhD student.

My co-supervisor is Dr Arjun Iyer, who also did a PhD here himself. He did a lot of the pre-clinical work that contributed to the first DCD heart transplantation and having him supervise the surgical component, to learn from and bounce ideas off, has been extremely valuable.

Dr Jansz has equally been incredibly supportive and he is a surgeon I really look up to. His endorsement of the PhD program gives us a lot of confidence, especially knowing that he did a PhD himself. He has created an atmosphere where we are allowed to grow, work on our surgical skills, as well as carry into clinical practice some of the research work. It has been great to work with all the surgeons at St Vincent’s, they care deeply about their patients and their excellence in their craft is something to aspire to.

You are now involved in the spider venom research which must be incredibly exciting?

We are still in the middle of our experiments and there is still a lot of work to be done which I am looking forward to. Our lab has done pre-clinical work that shows Hi1a (funnel web spider venom) does have potential to be 'cardioprotective'.

What appealed to me most about my PhD project was the chance to clinically translate the research work. We hope that in a transplant model Hi1a could potentially help better protect the donor heart, particularly in the period where the donor heart is not receiving oxygenated blood – better protection of donor hearts in this setting could mean an increased number of transplanted hearts, as well as improved quality, both of which would potentially be great news for heart transplant recipients. I am cautiously optimistic.

How do you manage to fit in your PhD and what made you undertake even more studying?

It can be challenging at times, managing clinical work with my PhD/research work but for the most part it is incredibly fun! I truly enjoy what I do and it helps that I have supervisors, surgical mentors as well as a team in the lab and the hospital that are very understanding of the requirements of both my PhD and clinical work. I am also fortunate in that a lot of the clinical work, in particular, retrievals for DCD heart transplantation, goes hand-in-hand with my PhD.

Other than that, it helps to plan the week ahead, but at the same time also be flexible! Particularly in the line of transplant work where you never know when you’ll be called for a retrieval.

Outside of work, what do you do in your downtime?

I love watching/playing tennis, basketball and also enjoy watching Formula One and cricket.

However, as cliché as it sounds, I really enjoy family time! I have a super-woman of a wife who is also a doctor and is incredibly supportive. We love travelling and exploring new places. We have a very cheeky two-year-old boy who loves going on adventures, the Zoo is a definite favourite for him.

Dr Joshi and his family

If I’m around during the weekend, we do a 'Family Ward Round' we visit my in-laws (where my mother-in-law will have concocted some new dish for me to try) and my parents. My parents really gave me their everything, and now they have a grandson, they absolutely adore and spoil him – often my son will just demand to go there, on the weekend round, he’s the boss! I also have a younger brother who is in high school and when we’re together we can go hours talking, watching, or playing basketball whenever we get a chance. You may also find us playing tennis or go-karting.

What are your words of wisdom to other clinicians who want to also undertake research?

I would encourage them to do it! It has to be in a subject that is interesting to them. If they can find the right project then it is absolutely something I would recommend.

Every specialty/clinician is different so they would need to work out if it worked for them and if they wanted to also concurrently be still involved with clinical duties, but for the most part I would say it is a fantastic experience.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years