Nimmi Ramanujam
Robert W. Carr, Jr., Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Ramanujam is the Robert W. Carr Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and also a faculty member in the Global Health Institute and Dept. Pharmacology and Cell Biology at Duke University. She is an innovator, educator and entrepreneur and her mission is to develop and leverage technology to have the most wide reaching impact in women’s health. She directs the center for Global Women’s Health Technologies (GWHT), a partnership between the Pratt School of Engineering and the Duke Global Health Institute. Through the GWHT, she is empowering her trainees at Duke and beyond to be agents of change - providing them with the knowledge, confidence and critical thinking skills to create impactful solutions to improve women’s lives.  

Dr. Ramanujam’s research focuses on womens’ cancers and in particular breast and cervical cancer. Her goals are to design innovations that enable complex referral services often reserved for hospitals to be accessible at the community/primary care level, develop technologies to see and treat women with early stage disease in one visit and to develop tools that will make cancer treatment more effective and efficient. One example of a technology she and her team has developed to achieve health care impact is the Pocket Colposcope. The Pocket colposcope has the potential to revolutionize cervical cancer screening in low resource communities by enhancing the effectiveness and scalability of the screening process, reducing loss to follow up and guiding treatment decisions.

Design is at the heart of innovation. Today engineering design is often taught in a traditional classroom to engineering students, and often towards the end of a student’s tenure in college. What if design and innovation could be accessible to a global community rather to a privileged few that can attend an elite university and what if the global technological challenges that communities face could be solved by women and girls who can personally relate to them right then and there? Dr. Ramanujam and her team have created a unique model to make design thinking and execution pervasive and in the process have created teachers, innovators and entrepreneurs. It starts with a design course that teaches a small group of students how to hear, create and deliver a technological solution to a community need. Students than adapt the curricula to meet the needs of an international community and teach it to students in those communities using a similar instructor to student ratio. The students in those communities then perpetuate the knowledge by maintaining that virtuous cycle within their own communities.

Women around the world are disproportionately impacted by health, educational and economic inequities. Thus, much of Dr. Ramanujam’s work has a global reach. Countries she and her team have worked in include India, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti and the U.S. These interactions have resulted in a community that is growing exponentially and has an international reach across a number of different sectors including academia, industry, non-governmental organizations and the government.

Prof. Ramanujam has received several awards for her work in cancer research and technology innovation for women's health. She received the TR100 Young Innovator Award from MIT in 2003, the Global Indus Technovator award from MIT in 2005, Era of Hope Scholar awards from the DOD in 2005 and 2009, the Stasnell Family award from the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke in 2011 and the Emerging Leader in Global Health Award from the Consortium of Universities in Global Health (CUGH) in 2018. She is a fellow of several optical and biomedical engineering societies including OSA, SPIE AIMBE. She has also been elected to the National Academy of Inventors - Class of 2018. She is also co-editor of the Handbook of Biomedical Optics (publisher Taylor and Francis). 

Current Research Interests

Innovating on optical strategies to peer into the biological landscape of thick tissues. Technologies being developed in her lab leverage principles of optical spectroscopy, optical sectioning microscopy, and molecular imaging. Her research group is developing and applying these optically based tools for three problems in cancer: cancer screening in resource-limited settings, intra-operative margin assessment to detect residual disease during cancer surgery, and visualizing tumor hypoxia and metabolism in the context of cancer therapy and drug discovery. Prof. Ramanujam is leading a multi-disciplinary effort to translate these technologies to clinical applications in the breast, and cervix.

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Contact Information

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