Nimmi Ramanujam


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

Dr. Ramanujam is an innovator, educator and entrepreneur. Her mission is to develop technology that will have a wide reaching impact on women's health. She directs the center for Global Women’s Health Technologies at Duke where she empowers trainees at Duke and beyond to create impactful solutions to improve the lives of women and girls globally. 

Dr. Ramanujam has spent the last two decades developing precision diagnostics and most recently precision therapeutics for breast and cervical cancer, with a focus on addressing health disparities. She has more than 20 patents to-date and over 150 publications for screening, diagnostic, and surgical applications. She has raised over $30M of funding to pursue these innovations through a variety of funding mechanisms including NIH R01s and R21s, NIH Bioengineering Partnerships, NCI Academic Industry Partnerships, NIH Small Business grants and USAID funding. As the founding director of the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies at Duke, she has developed a consortium of over 50+ partners including international academic institutions and hospitals, non-governmental organizations, ministries of health, and commercial partners; this consortium is working to ensure that the technologies developed at the center are adopted by cancer control programs in geographically and economically diverse healthcare settings. 

Dr. Ramanujam’s research on women’s cancers has centered on translational and laboratory research of relevance to breast and cervical cancer. While her guiding principles are similar across breast and cervical cancer, the technical challenges needed to tackle these cancers are inherently different. In the case of cervical cancer prevention, her focus is to develop strategies that reduce attrition to treatment including early screening and diagnostics. In the breast cancer care cascade, clinical care has principally pivoted towards a focus on how to inform the effectiveness of cancer therapy whether it is surgery or systemic therapy and that is where she has focused her efforts via molecular and metabolic imaging.  A third area in her research program focuses on low cost ablative strategies for local control of cancer in resource limited settings. She has also created two companies Zenalux and Calla Health to commercialize her breast and cervical imaging products, respectively. Additionally, she has created three social innovations programs: WISH to impact cervical cancer prevention in low resource settings, IGNITE to scale social innovation education to students globally and the Calla Campaign to bridge inequities in sexual and reproductive health inequities through story-telling and art

Dr. Ramanujam has received institutional awards for her work including the Global Indus Technovator and TR100 Young Innovator awards (MIT) and the Stansell Family award (Pratt School of Engineering, Duke). Additionally, she has been recognized by both private and government organizations including multiple Era of Hope Scholar awards (DoD), the Emerging Leader in Global Health Award (CUGH), the Social Impact Abie Award (, the Biophotonics Technology Innovator Award (SPIE), the Women in Molecular Imaging Leadership Award (WMIC), a Fulbright Global Scholar Award and the The WomC Global Impact Award from Duke University Women’s Center. She is a fellow of several optical and biomedical engineering societies including OSA, SPIE, and AIMBE. Most recently, she was awarded the Michael S. Feld Biophotonics Award and was appointed as the IEEE Distinguished Lecturer and her MacArthur Foundation 100&Change proposal, Women-Inspired Strategies for Health (WISH): A Revolution against Cervical Cancer, has been named to the Top 100 of the 755 proposals submitted to this $100M grant competition. She has demonstrated the global impact of her work through presentations at the United Nations and TEDx events.

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


  • 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. . 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

  • 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].
  • Zhu, C; Li, M; Vincent, T; Martin, HL; Crouch, BT; Martinez, AF; Madonna, MC; Palmer, GM; Dewhirst, MW; Ramanujam, N, Simultaneous in vivo optical quantification of key metabolic and vascular endpoints reveals tumor metabolic diversity in murine breast tumor models., J Biophotonics, vol 12 no. 4 (2019) [10.1002/jbio.201800372] [abs].
  • Crouch, BT; Gallagher, J; Wang, R; Duer, J; Hall, A; Soo, MS; Hughes, P; Haystead, T; Ramanujam, N, Exploiting heat shock protein expression to develop a non-invasive diagnostic tool for breast cancer., Scientific Reports, vol 9 no. 1 (2019) [10.1038/s41598-019-40252-y] [abs].