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Emily Toegel portrait

Cameroon Native Emily Baiyee Toegel, MD, Brings International Perspective to Her Gastrointestinal Cancer Work

Toegel trained and worked in Massachusetts before coming to the CU Cancer Center in 2023.

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Written by Greg Glasgow on February 28, 2024

A childhood in Cameroon and medical school in Germany helped form the worldly approach to cancer care and research taken by University of Colorado Cancer Center member Emily Baiyee Toegel, MD. 

“I grew up in Cameroon until late teenage age, and after high school I moved to Germany and started medical school,” says Toegel, assistant professor of medical oncology at the CU Department of Medicine. “There, they don’t have a pre-med-type degree. If you're doing medicine, you start medicine from the first year. You do six years and nine months of training, and when you're done, you're done with your medical degree.”

Toegel’s interest in a career in medicine started when she was in high school, inspired by her biology classes as well as a cousin who died from leukemia at an early age.

“In Cameroon, the classes in human biology are almost like the beginning of learning anatomy, and that fascinated me,” she says. “We talked extensively about what the physiology of the human body looks like, and that was the main reason I wanted to go into medicine.”

Intro to oncology

Toegel worked part time at a nursing home during medical school and even returned to Cameroon for one of her electives, but other than that she was focused on her medical education. She published two papers on immunology as a student, beginning a love of research that has continued throughout her career.

“It showed me how I could couple what I was learning in medicine with physiology and research, and in that sense, try to not only improve patient care, but also advance medicine through research,” she says. “I knew that for the rest of my life, I wanted be able to provide care for patients but always have research as part of my training.”

Toegel came to the U.S. for her residency, working at Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts. It was there that she took a serious interest in oncology, thanks to a breast cancer oncologist she worked with closely. 

“She was very compassionate. I liked her style,” Toegel says. “She knew that you could have tough encounters, but she enjoyed spending time with the patients. That made me feel like, ‘Yeah, this is what I want to do long term.’ 

It was also in Boston that Toegel began her work in the field of outcomes research in neuroendocrine tumors— studying the ultimate results of treatments for the condition. It’s work she plans to continue at the CU Cancer Center using the Flatiron database, a technology platform that provides real-world clinical data collected from the electronic health records used by cancer care providers across the United States. 

In addition to offering its researchers access to the database, the CU Cancer Center adds its patient data to the platform.

“Our ultimate goal is to offer our patients personalized care that is effective and is well tolerated,” Toegel says. “Through the data we get from outcomes research, we can fine-tune the type of treatments we offer, and we can identify the mutations that indicate patients will respond to a particular therapy.”

Coming to Colorado

After Tufts, Toegel went to Boston University for her fellowship, working under a program director who specialized in gastrointestinal (GI) oncology and sparked Toegel’s interest in the field. Looking for a change of scene after her fellowship, Toegel came to Denver in 2019, helping to build the GI oncology program at another Denver Metro hospital before coming to the CU Cancer Center and the CU School of Medicine in 2023. 

As part of the GI oncology program at the CU Cancer Center, Toegel treats patients with neuroendocrine tumors, pancreatic cancer, bile duct cancers, and colorectal cancers. Taking a cue from her mentor at Tufts, she spends much of her time focusing on patients.

“I really love interacting with them,” she says. “It’s not just about taking care of patients, as far as their disease, but more holistically. I always tell patients that, ‘Your family is part of the picture.’ My goal is to make this really, really hard experience as tolerable as possible and to offer them all the support we have.

“That’s one thing I really like about working at the CU Cancer Center, is that I'm able to offer them so many options as far as support,” she continues. “We have patient navigators who work with them, we have nurses who are always available to patients — when they reach out with questions, they get a response pretty quickly.”

Academic advantage

Though she enjoyed her first few years in Colorado, Toegel says, she appreciated being able to return to an academic medical setting like the one at the University of Colorado.

“I was in an academic center in Boston, and over time I started to miss that. I missed being able to focus on one area,” she says, adding that one aspect of the medical experience she enjoys is working with trainees including medical students, residents, and fellows.

“I love working with residents and fellows, because they always ask questions that get you thinking or give you a different perspective,” she says. “Even when I was in Boston, I worked with residents and fellows. That was always a great experience.”

Less than a year into her position as assistant professor of medical oncology, Toegel feels at home at the CU Cancer Center — and grateful to be part of a supportive team of cancer experts.

“The great strength of this program is that I'm connected to mentors who are there to guide me to achieve my research and career goals,” she says.

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