Duke Launches Global Women’s Health Technologies Center

By Geelea Seaford

Around the world, nearly 800 women die every day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth—and even more from breast and cervical cancer. Duke’s expertise in biomedical engineering and global health are merging to address these issues and improve the lives of women by accelerating research in areas of women’s health, while increasing the number of women and minorities who pursue training and degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. 

Nimmi Ramanujam

The Global Women’s Health Technologies Center reflects a partnership between the Pratt School of Engineering and the Duke Global Health Institute and is led by Nimmi Ramanujam, professor of biomedical engineering and global health.

The center’s mission is to increase research, training and education in women’s diseases, with a focus on breast cancer, cervical cancer, and maternal-fetal health; and to increase retention of women and underrepresented minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) educational disciplines locally and globally.

“With Duke’s leadership in health technology innovations and our university-wide commitment to knowledge in service to society, we are perfectly poised to develop practical solutions to address health challenges facing women, especially those in low- and middle-income countries,” said Tom Katsouleas, Vinik Dean of Engineering at Duke. “I’m especially enthusiastic about the opportunities this new center will open for Duke students—it will offer them both the training and the inspiration they need to make a real difference in the world.”

The center will offer courses to engage students in STEM fields by targeting areas of a woman’s life that are subject to significant health disparities. These courses will be linked to the research currently under way at Duke in women’s health technologies and will emphasize the translation of research into practice. 

“I’m pleased the Duke Global Health Institute is a part of this important initiative,” said Michael Merson, director of the Duke Global Health Institute. “Under Dr. Ramanujam’s leadership, I know we can mobilize our students and faculty around these issues and make Duke a leader in women’s health technologies. I know of few such centers dedicated to this area around the world.”

“I believe that we can attract and retain women in science and technology by making the subject personally relevant,” said Ramanujam.  “Women are powerful advocates and researchers, and want to improve the quality of life of other women around the world.”

Since coming to Duke in 2005, Ramanujam has established a laboratory that is developing and applying innovative optical strategies and technologies for cancer screening in resource-limited settings, detecting residual disease during cancer surgery, and visualizing tumor hypoxia and metabolism in the context of cancer therapy and drug discovery. She is currently working with DGHI partners at the Family Health Ministries to develop a portable, low-power spectroscopic device for screening cervical cancer in Haiti and has studies planned in Moshi, Tanzania.

Learn more about the Duke Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies at gwht.pratt.duke.edu