Duke's Ramanujam Wins MIT's Global Indus Technovators Award

Associate professor Nimmi Ramanujam of Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering is a recipient of the 2005 Global Indus Technovators Award for her work developing minimally invasive, light-based technologies for early cancer detection. An awards reception was held on Jan. 24, 2006, in Boston.

The honor is bestowed on top scientists and engineers by the Indian Business Club at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to inspire a culture of innovation among young people of South Asian descent.

“It’s an honor to be named among such an impressive group of previous awardees, and anything that helps to get young people interested in cancer research is great,” Ramanujam said. “If it impacts the next generation of South Asian students to get interested in innovation, that’s all positive.” Ramanujam is of Indian origin and grew up in Malaysia before coming to the United States to pursue a college education.

Selected from a pool of more than 100 nominees under the age of 40, Ramanujam is one of ten to receive this year’s award for work at the forefront of biotechnology, medicine or other areas of technology.

Ramanujam’s research is focused on the use of light to aid in the clinical diagnosis of cancer. Light is a safe form of radiation and is unique in its ability to unravel physiologic, metabolic and structural properties of molecules in tissues, many of which may differ between cancerous and healthy cells, she explained.

Clinical trials to determine whether her optical technology can effectively discriminate cancer from non-cancer are now underway in patients with breast cancer, she said.

Ramanujam said her device might prove a boon to cancer detection and treatment in developing countries, as it could be made much smaller and less expensive than current methods, such as CT scans, that require stationary and costly imaging machines.

Ramanujam joined the faculty at Duke in 2005 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she was an assistant professor in the department of biomedical engineering and medical physics. She received her doctorate in biomedical engineering from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1995, and is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including Technology Review Magazine’s 2003 Top 100 Young Innovator Award.

The Global Indus Technovators awards were established in 2003, to increase awareness about the technological contributions of young South Asians across the globe. The initiative is meant to inculcate a culture of science and technology, and provide role models for the South Asian youth. For more information about the award, go to http://technovators.mit.edu.