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Alumna Rao Headed to UK for PhD Studies as a Gates Cambridge Scholar
Tanvi Rao will study medical imaging and work to bridge gaps in health equity.
February 10, 2021

Tanvi Rao knew she wanted to do work that would help bridge gaps in health equity.

After a few years in consulting and healthcare innovation, she saw a way to do that in radiology and radiogenomics — a emerging part of the field that combines medical imaging and genomic data.

“Medical imaging has the potential to disrupt traditional lines of thinking and limitations around resourcing and access to care,” Rao said. “Imaging provides a means of delivering clinical-grade diagnostics regardless of distance.”

This fall, Rao is headed to the University of Cambridge with a full scholarship to begin work on that dream as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. The program announced its 2021 class of two dozen students from the United States Feb. 8.

“The program offers the opportunity to join a global community of scholars who are dedicated to improving the lives of others and driving change through leadership,” said Rao, a 2018 graduate of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory. “I really liked the idea of being part of an academically diverse community and learning from peers in different disciplines who were also interested in using their research to address global issues.”

Rao is the seventh Gates Cambridge Scholar from Georgia Tech and the first woman. She said she will study with Evis Sala at Cambridge, whose group is already making strides in radiogenomics. They’re working to better guide clinical decision-making by extracting quantitative data from medical images and finding correlations with tissue-based molecular data. Rao said their work could help lead to more precise and efficient healthcare.

“Leveraging predictive models and artificial intelligence in healthcare in this way is novel and exciting and has a lot of implications for improving care pathways; it's a very cool space to be in,” she said. “My specific focus is liver cancer, which is very deadly and relatively underfunded, so there is a lot of need.”

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship rewards students focused on social leadership in addition to academic achievement. Scholars can pursue studies and research in any subject at Cambridge. Rao and the other U.S. scholars will join another 60 or so graduate students from other parts of the world who have yet to be selected.

“Like their predecessors, this year’s cohort are an extraordinarily impressive and diverse group who have already achieved much in terms of their academic studies and leadership abilities and have already shown their commitment to improving the lives of others in multiple ways,” said Professor Barry Everitt, provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust. “We are sure these scholars — and those we announce in early April from other parts of the world — will flourish in the rich, international community at Cambridge and that they will make a significant impact in their fields and to the wider global community.”

Rao begins her studies in Cambridge this fall.