Growing up in India, Ravi Bellamkonda had to decide whether to pursue math or biology tracks early on in high school. His mother steered him toward math because he couldn’t draw–a valued skill in biology. But that decision didn’t shake his curiosity about the human body and how it works. “It’s mysterious, yet so important,” says Bellamkonda. He went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and opened the door to his lifelong career.
Ravi Bellamkonda is Chair of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University and President of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE). He is an esteemed research and professor, publishing more than 175 books and articles. He founded two companies and has several patents to his name.
Bellamkonda relocated to the United States to pursue his Ph.D. at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. There, he conducted research in a lab on repairing nerves and using biomaterials to help nerves grow. “Nerves don’t re-grow as well as bone does for example,” but that’s what we were trying to do,” he said. This work has applications for spinal injuries and other trauma.
After completing his graduate degree, Bellamkonda received post doctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the brain and cognitive sciences area. Next, he landed his first teaching job at Case Western Reserve University. And in 2003 Bellamkonda was recruited to Georgia Tech, where he currently teaches and conducts research.
At Georgia Tech, Bellamkonda’s research focuses on using biomaterials to affect healing in the nervous system. “We work on ideas that only engineers will think of,” he added. As an example, Ravi and his team have been exploring ways to trick brain cancer cells into growing outside of the body. They have experimented with directing nanofibers that mimic structures in the brain to an alternative path outside the body.
“There is a challenge in working with a system that we don’t fully understand,” Bellamkonda says about the human body. “You approach it with humility.” He adds that you need to be “doubly good” to pursue biomedical engineering because you need to learn two areas of study.
But the rewards are worth the challenges. According to Bellamkonda, “The future looks very bright [for biomedical engineering]. The impact of technology on medicine is dramatic and incredible techniques are being developed. Yet there are still so many unmet needs that can be worked on and contributed to.”