Leaders in Belonging 2024: Awardee
Professor of Radiology, UC San Diego Health and Chief of Interventional Radiology at the Veteran’s Administration
Dr. Isabel Newton serves as an interventional radiologist at the VA San Diego Healthcare System and an associate professor at UC San Diego, where she specializes in minimally invasive, image-guided procedures (MIIPs), particularly for treating liver cancer. Beyond her clinical duties, she co-founded the Interventional Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating both the medical community and the public about MIIPs. By ensuring that patients of diverse backgrounds have access to and understanding of these innovative procedures, Dr. Newton fosters a healthcare environment where patients truly belong as informed participants in their care journey.
“Everything we do is about patient empowerment. This means ensuring that every individual has access to the best medical solutions and the knowledge and support to choose them confidently.”
- Dr. Isabel Newton
Revolutionizing patient care through medical innovation
Dr. Isabel Newton’s work has always managed to straddle the space between scientific inquiry and personal connection. As the Chief of Interventional Radiology at the VA San Diego Healthcare System and a Professor at UC San Diego Health, her work is not confined to the four walls of a hospital but extends deep into the community she serves.
Born of two cultures, with a mother from Spain and a father from the U.S., Dr. Newton has always seen the world through a lens of diversity and opportunity. This perspective has been vital in her mission to provide the best quality care to her patients and to address the unique challenges faced by Hispanic, Asian American/ Pacific Islander, and Veteran populations.
As a clinician-scientist, Dr. Newton aims to improve outcomes for her patients through research that spans the laboratory to the bedside. This approach to research aims to “translate” findings in basic science into practical applications to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. Dr. Newton studies liver cancer, which disproportionately impacts groups in San Diego and beyond that are marginalized or persecuted because of systemic oppression. Liver cancer is unique in that it is on the rise, and it has one of the highest rates of recurrence. Her goal is to make sure that more liver cancer patients respond to treatment and that the cancer doesn’t come back.
Central to her strategy is an approach that harnesses the body’s immune system to fight cancer more effectively. By looking at how to stimulate the body’s immune response—much like a vaccine—this approach aims to dramatically improve survival rates.
Her research has recently been fueled by a $1M grant from Curebound, a San Diego-based cancer philanthropy that raises and invests funding in translational cancer research projects. This grant will enable her and her team to launch a novel clinical trial that could revolutionize the way we combat liver cancer.
Dr. Newton’s efforts are not only scientific but also deeply educational. In 2015, she co-founded (with Susan Jackson) the Interventional Initiative (the II), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving access to minimally invasive, image-guided procedures (MIIPs) through education. These procedures are performed through a pinhole in the skin, allowing for shorter recovery times and lower costs, and enabling patients to return to their normal lives sooner. As she puts it, “A patient will come with cancer and leave with a Band-Aid.” Unfortunately, most patients who could benefit from a MIIP are unaware of their options, and this fact drives the mission of the II.
Through the II, she has worked to ensure that patients become equal participants in their healthcare. She has collaborated with Dr. Eric Keller and other colleagues at the II to advance the Patient Decision Aid initiative with the goal of making informed consent an informed choice. Because most clinicians are not trained in compassionate consent, she and Dr. Keller developed the iCONSENT curriculum to help physicians communicate effectively with a diverse group of patients, especially those prone to poorer consent practices, including minorities, elderly, women, LGBTQ+, and those of low socioeconomic class, low English fluency, or disabilities.
Balancing the roles of a physician, educator, researcher, and mother of three is no small feat. Yet Dr. Newton, who holds both a PhD and an MD, is driven by a singular goal that acts as a compass for her multifaceted endeavors—the well-being of her patients. In Dr. Isabel Newton, we find that wonderful combination—a physician who not only heals with her hands but also with her heart.