Getting to know Raji Sundararajan

This story was originally posted on 11/01/10.Rajeswari “Raji” Sundararajan, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering technology, started teaching at Purdue and the College of Technology in 2006. During 2010-11, she is participating in the Purdue-sponsored Fellowship for Study in a Second Discipline. She is applying her knowledge of electrical and electronics engineering to test theories in cancer and regenerative medicine. In addition to her classes and research, she serves as president of the Electrostatics Society of America and chair of the IEEE Conference on Electrical Insulation and Dielectric Phenomena (CEIDP), which had a successful run at Purdue Memorial Union Oct. 17-20.

What I teach: I teach ECET 233, ECET 581A, and I’ve developed two new graduate courses: 581F, and TECH 621. Every time I teach 581F, which is basically my research, I do it differently. We had a need for these courses, and they are job-fetching ones. ECET581F shows the application of electrical and electronics engineering in biotechnology and medicine. And it is a signature area for our department, our college, and our university. TECH 621 [Energy Technologies and Applications] is about energy. There are a lot of myths about energy and alternative energy. I give them real-world information and information they need to know to be successful citizens. Politicians, I think, are giving the wrong message about green energy, and many believe it. We need our students to be better informed.

My research: I am researching electric pulse mediated drug delivery, drug delivery at the molecular level. Chemodrugs, genes and vaccines normally are unable pass through a cell membrane; it is impermeable. Electrical pulses can be directly injected into a tumor at much milder doses, such as 25 micrograms instead of 25 milligrams. You allow the drug to go in using 100 microsecond pulses, before there is any damage to the skin. I’ve been doing this research in the Lilly Biological Sciences Department and Bindley Bioscience Center. I am also working with optoinjection using laser nanosecond pulses. Then, we’ll compare both technologies to find out which molecule works.

The driving force behind my research: Alternate drug delivery is important, especially for cases where conventional technology doesn’t work, like inoperable cases. And 40-60 percent of cancer patients are chemo-resistant. They are all suffering. I’ve always wanted to be useful to others, serve others, make a difference. I know what it’s like to lose a mother. My work could help save one mother, at least. In the 21st century, people unnecessarily suffer. We have alternate techniques. It’s my duty to help, to see how I can be useful. I’ve been to Italy and I witnessed a doctor do six electro-chemotherapy surgeries on patients with skin cancer. That’s when I could see they needed better electrodes. The current process is a strain on the patient and the doctor. That was the most productive trip of my life.

My goals: I want to visit the hospital in Mercy University Hospital in Cork, Ireland. They are doing electroporation surgeries on skin cancer patients. I want to help design and develop better electrodes to be used in this procedure. I also am submititing a one-month visiting professor fellowship proposal for the Royal Academy of Engineering to study ultrasound therapies to compare sonoporation with electroporation.

My full schedule: I like having my office and having access to labs in Lilly and Bindley for research. I can do my teaching here in the day time, and I can work on research and do my other lab work at night and on weekends. I do a lot of reading [as she points to her stacks of work-related texts]. I keep myself very engaged. This is fun. I also spend time doing my prayers. When I need a break, I have my DVDs. I love listening to music and watching dance. I like Indian dance, “Dirty Dancing” with Patrick Swazye, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Legally Blonde,” “Forrest Gump.” I also watch inspirational scenes from movies, like “Remember the Titans.”