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Raina Kishan: Engineering Better Medicines

2017 NEA Grand Challenge Scholar ProfileRaina Kishan (left) poses during one of her service trips to promote the Pocket Colposcope

  • Major: Biomedical Engineering
  • Grand Challenge: Engineering Better Medicines
  • GC Advisor: Professor Nimmi Ramanujam
  • Project Title: Engineering the Pocket Colposcope 


What led you to pursue engineering at Duke?

I came into engineering because I really liked math and science, but after taking the introductory courses I was immediately drawn to BME. I thought the intersection between engineering and medicine was interesting, and I thought biomedical engineering was one of the main drivers of progress in medicine. My electives led me to this path with optics and tissue engineering, and that opened the door for me to start at Dr. Ramanujan’s lab by the end of my sophomore year.

What is your Grand Challenge Scholar project?

I’ve been researching cervical cancer in developing countries. In the three years that I’ve been a part of this program I’ve been working to develop a device for cervical cancer diagnosis called the Pocket Colposcope. A colposcope is used to take pictures of the cervix and a big problem for why cervical cancer is hard to detect in developing countries is that a colposcope is expensive, large and difficult to move around. But this device is portable and works like a tampon, but it takes high-end photos that we can use to diagnose for cervical cancer. I was able to use the resources from this project to go to Lima, Peru and help with the clinical trials in a cancer hospital there.

How did the Grand Challenge Scholar Project build off your other experience at Duke?

During my senior year I took Dr. Malkin’s class, “Design for the Developing World” and it influenced what I wanted to do with engineering, and that, paired with my experience in Dr. Ramanujan’s lab, showed me that I wanted to design products and work with healthcare in the developing world. Recognizing that helped me focus my curriculum and it gave me a better idea about what I wanted to do moving forward. It also helped me put my Grand Challenge Scholar project into perspective, because not only was I thinking about the biomedical design of these tools, but it also helped me put them into a cultural perspective and get a better understanding of why these tools are so important.

How do you think your experiences at Duke shaped your perspective moving forward?

Engineering is definitely what I’m most passionate about, and using these tools to improve women’s healthcare and improve that global perspective. I started with a broad understanding about what I liked going into this program, but these experiences have shown me what engineering can do, and I think that’s given me a better understanding about what good engineering can accomplish. I’ve been lucky to have experiences like Duke Engage and the Grand Challenge Program help shape my worldview, and it has shown me how my work can be beneficial for others.