Nimmi Ramanujam

Nimmi Ramanujam

Robert W. Carr, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Ramanujam is the Robert W. Carr Professor of Engineering and Professor of Cancer Pharmacology and Global Health at Duke University. She founded the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies (GWHT) in 2013 where she empowers trainees to create impactful solutions to improve the lives of women and girls globally. This center, since inception, has catalyzed new research activities and the development and commercialization of several technologies that advance prevention and treatment of cervical and breast cancer. The fundamental goal of her work is to create technologies that bring proven hospital-based solutions to point of care settings and, at the same time, pursue basic science research to understand and prevent cancer recurrence, specifically in breast cancer. 

Dr. Ramanujam’s work has led to low-cost community and home-based technology innovations that provide widespread cancer surveillance globally. To complement her translational efforts, Dr. Ramanujam’s post-doctoral fellowship with Prof. Britton Chance inspired her to exploit the dynamic changes in tumor metabolism that allow cancers to go under the radar and recur in a stealth mode when conditions are favorable. She is also creating a liquid-based ablative therapy with dual roles - (1) to address the pressing issue of cancer control in environments where access to surgery is scarce, and (2) enhance tumor kill through a combination of necrosis and T cell infiltration occurring as a result of tumor antigen presentation following ablation. She has created two companies Zenalux and Calla Health to commercialize her breast and cervical imaging products. 

Dr. Ramanujam has built several global initiatives. The most notable is a consortium to impact cervical cancer prevention in low resource settings. Her MacArthur Foundation 100&Change proposal, Women-Inspired Strategies for Health:  A Revolution against Cervical Cancer (WISH) has been recognized as one of the Top 100 of the 755 proposals submitted to this $100M grant competition and is now part of the Bold Solutions Network (Macarthur 100&Change). In addition to her cervical cancer prevention initiative, she has also created a global women’s education program that intersects design-thinking, STEM concepts, and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to promote social justice awareness (IGNITE). She has launched an arts and storytelling initiative to raise awareness of sexual and reproductive health inequities (https://theinvisibleorgan.com/). 

Dr. Ramanujam has more than 20 patents to-date and more than 150 publications for screening, diagnostic, and surgical applications. She has raised over $30M of funding to pursue these innovations through a variety of mechanisms including NIH R01s and R21s, NIH Bioengineering Partnerships, NCI Academic Industry Partnerships, NIH Small Business grants and USAID funding. As the director of the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies, she has developed a network of 50+ partners including international academic institutions and hospitals, non-governmental organizations, ministries of health, and commercial partners; this consortium works to ensure the technologies developed at the center are adopted by cancer control programs in geographically and economically diverse healthcare settings.  

Dr. Ramanujam has received numerous awards including the MIT TR100 Young Innovator award (MIT), the Global Indus Technovator award (MIT), the Stansell Family award (Duke), multiple Era of Hope Scholar awards (DoD), the Emerging Leader in Global Health Award (CUGH), the Social Impact Abie Award (AnitaB.org), the Biophotonics Technology Innovator Award (SPIE), the Women in Molecular Imaging Leadership Award (WMIC), the Michael S. Feld Biophotonics Award (OSA) and the Wom C Global Impact Award (Duke). She is a fellow of several optical and biomedical engineering societies including OSA, SPIE, and AIMBE. She is a Fulbright scholar and the 2020 IEEE Distinguished Lecturer. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Inventors. She has demonstrated her work’s global impact through presentations at the United Nations and TEDx events, and a number of national and international plenary talks. Her work has been featured in a number of venues including ABC News, Wired Magazine and NPR. 

Appointments and Affiliations

  • Robert W. Carr, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering
  • Professor of Biomedical Engineering
  • Research Professor of Global Health
  • Professor of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology
  • Affiliate of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Core Faculty in Innovation & Entrepreneurship
  • Core Faculty Member, Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy
  • Member of the Duke Cancer Institute

Contact Information

Education

  • Ph.D. University of Texas, Austin, 1995
  • M.S. University of Texas, Austin, 1992
  • B.S. University of Texas, Austin, 1989

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.

Awards, Honors, and Distinctions

  • Women In Molecular Imaging Network (WIMIN) Leadership Committee. WIMIN. 2020
  • Associate Editor. Inaugural Editorial Board of IEEE OJEMB. 2020
  • Michael S. Feld Biophotonics . OSA. 2020
  • The WomC Global Impact Award. Duke University Women’s Center. 2020
  • Associate Editor. Scientific Reports. 2019
  • Biophotonics Technology Innovator Award. International Society for Optics and Photonics. 2019
  • Program co-leader for Radiation Oncology and Imaging Program. Duke Cancer Institute. 2019
  • Social Impact Abie Award. AnitaB.org . 2019
  • Women in Molecular Imaging Network Outstanding Leadership in Molecular Imaging Award. World Molecular Imaging Society. 2019
  • CUGH Emerging Leader in Global Health Innovation Faculty Award. Consortium of Universities for Global Health. 2018
  • Fellow. National Academy of Inventors . 2017
  • Fellow. International Society for Optics and Photonics. 2013
  • Fellow. American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. 2012
  • Fellow. Optical Society of America. 2010

Courses Taught

  • BME 230L: Global Women's Health Technologies
  • BME 290: Intermediate Topics (GE)
  • BME 290L: Intermediate Topics with Lab (GE)
  • BME 394: Projects in Biomedical Engineering (GE)
  • BME 493: Projects in Biomedical Engineering (GE)
  • BME 494: Projects in Biomedical Engineering (GE)
  • EGR 393: Research Projects in Engineering
  • EHD 395: Bass Connections: Interdisciplinary Team Projects
  • EHD 396: Bass Connections: Interdisciplinary Team Projects
  • EHD 795: Bass Connections: Interdisciplinary Team Projects
  • EHD 796: Bass Connections: Interdisciplinary Team Projects
  • GLHLTH 230L: Global Women's Health Technologies
  • GLHLTH 393: Research Independent Study in Global Health
  • GLHLTH 395: Connections in Global Health: Interdisciplinary Team Projects
  • GLHLTH 396: Connections in Global Health: Interdisciplinary Team Projects
  • GLHLTH 795: Connections in Global Health: Interdisciplinary Team Projects
  • GLHLTH 796: Connections in Global Health: Interdisciplinary Team Projects
  • PHARM 493: Research Independent Study
  • PHARM 494: Research Independent Study
  • PHARM 495: Research Independent Study
  • SOCIOL 393: Research Independent Study

In the News

Representative Publications

  • Morhard, R; Mueller, JL; Tang, Q; Nief, C; Chelales, E; Lam, CT; Alvarez, DA; Rubinstein, M; Katz, DF; Ramanujam, N, Understanding Factors Governing Distribution Volume of Ethyl Cellulose-Ethanol to Optimize Ablative Therapy in the Liver., Ieee Transactions on Bio Medical Engineering, vol 67 no. 8 (2020), pp. 2337-2348 [10.1109/tbme.2019.2960049] [abs].
  • Asiedu, MN; Skerrett, E; Sapiro, G; Ramanujam, N, Combining multiple contrasts for improving machine learning-based classification of cervical cancers with a low-cost point-of-care Pocket colposcope, Conference Proceedings : ... Annual International Conference of the Ieee Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. Ieee Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. Annual Conference, vol 2020-July (2020), pp. 1148-1151 [10.1109/EMBC44109.2020.9175858] [abs].
  • Bowden, AK; Durr, NJ; Erickson, D; Ozcan, A; Ramanujam, N; Jacques, PV, Optical Technologies for Improving Healthcare in Low-Resource Settings: introduction to the feature issue., Biomedical Optics Express, vol 11 no. 6 (2020), pp. 3091-3094 [10.1364/boe.397698] [abs].
  • Asiedu, MN; Simhal, A; Chaudhary, U; Mueller, JL; Lam, CT; Schmitt, JW; Venegas, G; Sapiro, G; Ramanujam, N, Development of Algorithms for Automated Detection of Cervical Pre-Cancers With a Low-Cost, Point-of-Care, Pocket Colposcope., Ieee Trans Biomed Eng, vol 66 no. 8 (2019), pp. 2306-2318 [10.1109/TBME.2018.2887208] [abs].
  • Madonna, MC; Fox, DB; Crouch, BT; Lee, J; Zhu, C; Martinez, AF; Alvarez, JV; Ramanujam, N, Optical Imaging of Glucose Uptake and Mitochondrial Membrane Potential to Characterize Her2 Breast Tumor Metabolic Phenotypes., Mol Cancer Res, vol 17 no. 7 (2019), pp. 1545-1555 [10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-18-0618] [abs].