A born engineer, he was taking toys apart as a child just to put the parts back together in new ways. His journey through the computer science program at Cornell and his experience with world-leading endovascular surgeon, Dr. Roy Greenberg, have inspired him to be where he is today: commercializing an innovative device to improve endovascular procedures for the safety of physicians and patients.
Meet Vikash Goel, Chief Technology Officer and inventor of Centerline Biomedical’s IOPS.
What sparked your interest in engineering?
I’ve been an engineer for my whole life. I started programming computers at the age of 5 and using my first soldering iron at 8. It wasn’t long before I was disassembling all my toys and building robots out of the pieces. I became interested in computer graphics when I was a teenager in the mid-1990s, creating complex multimedia software in the so-called “demoscene.” I started to grasp mechanical engineering concepts as I started modifying cars. At Cornell I studied computer science and developed an interest in the abstract mathematics behind it. I took a computer graphics course with Don Greenberg, Chair of Cornell’s Program of Computer Graphics. When I received the highest grade in his class, Don recruited me to join his master’s program at Cornell, which spurred my interest in research.
How did your education influence the development of IOPS?
Most of my computer graphics colleagues went on to work in video games and movies. That was exciting, but I found a different way to contribute.
One day, Don’s son, Dr. Roy Greenberg, visited our lab at Cornell. I did not realize at the time that he was a world leader in endovascular surgery. He delivered a presentation about endovascular surgery, what it was capable of achieving, and the challenges limiting its growth and dissemination. He asked if any of us would be interested in an opportunity to make endovascular surgery better. Thus began our collaboration.
I graduated in 2005 and moved to Cleveland to work with Roy in his research lab at Cleveland Clinic, managed by Karl West. We worked on developing technology to help with the process of customizing endovascular grafts, but, along the way, began noticing the problem with fluoroscopy: how could surgeons effectively navigate the body with such crummy imaging? We refocused our efforts to solve this problem.
What are the short- and long-term goals of IOPS?
The main short-term goal of IOPS is to achieve commercialization so we can get this technology into the hands of surgeons to protect them, improve the lives of patients, and improve the quality of healthcare.
In the long-term, we hope to extend this technology’s reach. Right now, the focus of IOPS is on aortic interventions, which are the most time-intensive fluoroscopic procedures. But the IOPS platform is applicable to other parts of the body. Minimally-invasive surgery is all the rage right now, and that is a trend that is unlikely to change; minimally-invasive repairs provide faster recovery, result in fewer complications, cost less, and offer a better quality of life. We want to be at the leading edge of this, to expand to other vascular procedures and enable treatment of more patients. Our hope is that we can facilitate all kinds of minimally-invasive surgeries to allow patients and caregivers the best possible quality of life.
Describe a day in the life of Vikash Goel at Centerline Biomedical.
In a startup business, there’s never a dull moment. In the span of a single day, I could be soldering an electronic testing fixture, writing code for a new modeling algorithm, reviewing a mechanical drawing with contractors, and pitching investors. There’s always something new to do.
Who has inspired you throughout this process?
Dr. Roy Greenberg, my mentor for more than 10 years, has been – and remains – a strong source of inspiration. He spent a great deal of time in front of fluoroscopy units, and he was among the first practitioners to draw attention to the risks of fluoroscopic radiation. When he fell sick and passed, I, Karl West, and the other engineers that worked with him were crushed, but also motivated to work to keep other surgeons from having to make extreme sacrifices in order to heal their patients.
My experiences with Roy continue to provide me with guidance. When we worked together, I was able to learn from him from a clinical and technical standpoint. As I advanced to managing and directing development, I’ve been able to gain wisdom from my memories of his management style and vision.
How do you stay up-to-date on the medical device industry?
I find it important to have conversations with a wide variety of people in the medical device field, from clinicians to engineers to regulators to venture capitalists. That provides context for my research on industry trends and drives my reading of journals and periodicals.
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
I have two answers to this question.
As a young research engineer, I was often driven to attempt to solve all problems at once. Karl West, my supervisor at the time and the other lead inventor of IOPS, urged me, “Keep any engineering system you build as simple as possible until it’s working.” By starting with something simple, and then building on that functionality, we were able to develop extremely elegant systems. I take this advice to heart in every bit of technical work I do today.
In my work with Centerline, I frequently find myself referring back to advice given to me by our CEO, Dr. Jai Gupta. When challenges would arise in negotiations and I became concerned, Jai would remind me that the goal is not to “win” the negotiation, but rather to reach a mutual understanding in which each side values the other and to find an agreement that benefits each party. Building a respectful and collegial relationship allows interests and goals to align. I can now see many examples of successful people who espouse this approach and unsuccessful ones who seem to eschew it. Adopting this guiding principle has been extremely valuable for me.