MEDx Reflects: Exploring the medicine and engineering intersection with Dean Ravi Bellamkonda

Ravi Bellamkonda headshotRavi Bellamkonda, Vinik Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, is committed to fostering transformative research and pedagogical innovation as well as programs that create an entrepreneurial mindset among faculty and students. A bioengineer and neuroscientist, Bellamkonda has focused his research efforts on engineered devices for brain tumor therapy, immunomodulation for peripheral and central nervous system repair, biomaterials, and brain-machine interfaces. 

Bellamkonda sees the importance of enhancing ties between Pratt and other Duke schools and programs to continue building partnerships that will help everyone rise. 

Why are you interested in research at the intersection of medicine and engineering?

It is in Duke’s DNA, and it is Duke’s competitive advantage that great engineering and great medicine live under the same roof. More importantly, there are no barriers – this is a fluid interchange of ideas, students and programs across engineering and medicine. Besides, technology from genomic technology to Artifical Intelligence (AI) is profoundly impacting diagnostics, therapy and health care delivery, and I’d very much like Duke to leverage its collaborative DNA to help lead this revolution at the intersection of technology and health.

How are you pursuing this intersection within Duke as Dean?

In the areas of AI Health, Devices, Regenerative Medicine, Data Science, Materials Engineering, Imaging Technologies and Genomics – in all of these areas, we have a natural interest and intersect with faculty across Duke University and Duke Health.

How can you see the intersection between research in medicine and engineering playing out at Duke over the next few years?

I think we’ll blur the lines much further with joint hiring, cross-appointments, joint research centers and also, hopefully, in co-locating people from both units together in the same physical spaces. The New Engineering Building is a great example – the fifth floor, when it opens in 2020, will house the AI Health Initiative. I think that through MEDx, there is a special opportunity looking ahead to engage with industry and pursue entrepreneurial activities as well.

Why do you think this intersection is important for Duke?

We care about impact, we care about health and we have the leadership to be able to do something very special. Engineering at Duke today has a very special relationship with Mary Klotman, the Dean of Medicine, and with many of our clinical and basic science chairs within the School of Medicine. Chancellor Gene Washington is also a great friend of new models of health care delivery and research. So I think we have a special opportunity at Duke to lead and ultimately help improve health outcomes for our society.  

Do you feel there is a place for interdisciplinary training and education within the School of Medicine and Duke Engineering?

In programs like Design Health, entrepreneurship and basic biomedical research as well as in intersections between Duke Engineering and clinical departments, we have many opportunities to train the next generation of biomedical scholars and innovators.

What is your vision for the future for MEDx and Duke?

I am excited for the future of our collaboration – the common interests in data science, AI Health, the embrace of population and global health, our interest in fundamental molecular and cellular therapies as well as biomaterials. These approaches will be brought to bear on a wide variety of important challenges in health from cancer to regenerative medicine and resilience to cardiovascular disease to immune disorders and infectious diseases, and population and environmental health. This combined with entities like MEDx, our premier Department of Biomedical Engineering, amazing faculty and students, and really excellent leadership in our clinical departments augurs well for the future.