Anita Rajamani
Predicting the likelihood of cardiovascular disease before symptoms manifest

Note: Anita Rajamani was a Keller Pathway Fellow in 2017/18. This interview was conducted in fall 2017.

Anita Rajamani is pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and is currently working on an interdisciplinary project at the interface of nutrition, inflammation and cardiovascular diseases. While she finds it extremely satisfying to have her work published, Rajamani would ultimately like to translate her academic research into a commercial diagnostics product.

In a nutshell, describe your project or venture.

I am working on a tool that will predict an individual’s likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease before symptoms manifest.

What’s important about your research or project—and where do you hope to take it?

The rate of obesity is at a record high due to increasingly sedentary lifestyles paired with high-fat diets. Lifestyle and diet modifications can prevent a number of these diseases, but person-to-person variability renders a “one size fits all” diet impossible. I hope to use research to develop a technology that measure an individual’s response to different meals (for example, a low-fat meal or a Mediterranean meal) or different exercise regimen, and link it to their cardiovascular disease risk.

What are you most passionate about your work?

A passionate team with diverse backgrounds and experiences usually accomplishes breakthrough problem solving in the medical field. The most exciting part of my work is being part of such teams, and gaining the knowledge required to be a liaison between engineering and science.

What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?

Academic research is the root for most discoveries, but researchers need to be able to bridge the gap between academic research and the market. At the academy, I learned that bridging the gap can only be accomplished with a strong network. The networking sessions at the academy gave me the opportunity to begin fostering my network required to begin translating my research from bench to bedside.

What is the most unexpected advice you received from a mentor?

Ninety percent of startups fail. Yet if you believe in the idea, value of the product and have a dedicated team, it is worth the effort. You will come out a different person at the end, despite the outcome.  

Do you have a project/venture in mind for the Big Bang! Business Competition? How do you expect participation in the Big Bang! workshops and  competition to help you as an aspiring entrepreneur?

Chemotherapy is the most prevalent form of treatment for cancer patients. However, chemotherapy also increases patient suffering due to extensive side effects, largely because it is nonspecific. I am working with a startup in Davis, Ariz Precision Medicine, to target the biological drivers of cancer in the body. I am looking forward to using the workshops to nail my elevator pitch, polish my communication skills with broader audiences, and identify the resources needed to move my project forward. I am also excited to see all the amazing projects and teams!

The Keller Pathway Fellowship Program specifically supports women, cross-disciplinary researchers and other underrepresented university-based entrepreneurs. Do you have any insight, experience or concern you’d like to share?

I was born and raised in Dubai with strong Indian roots, and spent my college years at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Both places have had a huge role in the way I think, empathize and act. I believe that diversity in a team brings in the broad perspective and the range of expertise needed to identify the simplest solution for a complex problem. I am so grateful that UC Davis is committed to increasing diversity and equity in all fields, and am thankful for the opportunities that the Keller Pathway Fellowship has to offer.

How will your experiences as a Keller Pathway Fellow help you to change the world?

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”—Margaret Mead. The Keller Pathway has already helped me find a small group of some of the smartest and most committed people across all fields. I cannot ask for more! I am looking forward to working with this amazing team to develop a leukemia therapy that has the potential to save thousands of lives every year.