Kathryn Whitehead is a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Whitehead joined the Department of Chemical Engineering as an assistant professor in 2012. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Delaware in 2002 and her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2007. As a graduate student in the laboratory of Samir Mitragotri, Whitehead developed systems for the oral delivery of macromolecules. From 2008 - 2012, she undertook postdoctoral training with Bob Langer at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT. There, she developed biomaterials and methodologies for the advancement of RNA interference therapeutics. Whitehead is a native Pennsylvanian, having grown up in Allentown.

The research interests of the Whitehead Lab lie at the interface of chemical engineering, molecular biology, and medicine. The group’s ultimate goal is to engineer safe and effective drug delivery systems capable of achieving therapeutic outcomes in biological models and, ultimately, in humans. As a first step, the Whitehead Lab is interested in developing a fundamental understanding of the relationship between delivery barrier biology and drug transport. To accomplish this, the group is employing RNA interference, a biological phenomenon that induces gene silencing in the presence of siRNA. Through the identification of cellular components essential to the drug transport process, the group is able to design delivery systems using modern chemical techniques to overcome or cooperate with those components. Specifically, Whitehead’s Lab is interested in the development of delivery systems for the nucleus, the intestinal epithelium, and various leukocytes, including B lymphoma cells.

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Kathryn Whitehead
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mRNA offers potential new treatment for pancreatic diseases

The future of medicine: using mRNA to treat disease

Katie Whitehead: Using Breast Milk to Improve Infant Drug Delivery

Nanotherapeutics: Improving Cancer Cell Treatment

Advanced Nanoparticle Research for Drug Delivery


2007 Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, University of California, Santa Barbara

2002 BS, Chemical Engineering, University of Delaware

Media mentions

Keystone Symposia

Whitehead organizes symposium

ChemE’s Katie Whitehead co-organized the Keystone Symposium on Delivery of Nucleic Acid Therapeutics in Banff, Alberta, Canada in late January. Ph.D. alum Khalid Hajj (2019), postdoc Sai Yerneni, and Ph.D. student Mariah Arral also attended.

Arral earns bionanotechnology graduate student award at AIChE

ChemE Ph.D. candidate Mariah L. Arral won 3rd place in the 2023 Bionanotechnology Graduate Student Awards at the 2023 American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) annual meeting.

Chemical Engineering

Arral honored as one of AIChE’s 35 Under 35

Ph.D. student Mariah L. Arral is honored in the education and outreach category of AIChE’s 35 Under 35.

National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering

Whitehead highlighted for packaging mRNA for the pancreas

Research by ChemE/BME’s Kathryn Whitehead was featured as a Science Highlight by the NIBIB, part of the NIH. Whitehead's lab developed lipid nanoparticles that are designed to carry mRNA specifically to the pancreas.

CMU Engineering

Delivering mRNA therapeutics to the pancreas

Kathryn Whitehead is at the forefront of the mRNA delivery field, changing the chemistry of nanoparticle delivery vehicles to enable them to reach organs beyond the liver.

CMU Engineering

Mother’s milk cells key to novel infant disease therapy

Kathryn Whitehead is exploring ways to utilize the unique properties of breast milk to develop a novel approach to infant disease therapy.

Chemical Engineering

Whitehead featured on CBS Evening News

On Sunday, February 28th, CBS Evening News featured Carnegie Mellon Chemical Engineering Professor Kathryn Whitehead, who sat down with CBS’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Jon LaPook, to discuss the future of mRNA drug delivery.

Pittsburgh Business Times

Whitehead featured in Pittsburgh Business Times

In the Pittsburgh Business Times’ latest “Personalities of Pittsburgh” article, Paul Gough sits down with ChemE’s Katie Whitehead to discuss mRNA vaccines, science communication, Whitehead’s hobbies, and more.


Whitehead quoted on mRNA abilities

ChemE’s Katie Whitehead was quoted in BBC on the capabilities of mRNA. 

Chemical Engineering

Student spotlight: Mariah Arral

CMU Chemical Engineering Ph.D. student, Mariah Arral, has never let anything stand in the way of pursuing her dreams. From battling through financial hardship to overcoming disabilities like autism and dyslexia, she continues to work towards a career in academia, one that many told her would never happen.

CMU Engineering

Whitehead featured on NPR’s TED Radio Hour

Following her recent TED Talk, Katie Whitehead sits down with NPR’s TED Radio Hour Host, Manoush Zomorodi, to discuss lipid nanoparticles and how RNA drugs are revolutionizing modern medicine.

CMU Engineering

Team builds tools, innovations to support federal investment

With major investments in infrastructure and innovation pending, a multi-disciplinary initiative lead by EPP’s Erica Fuchs is building the tools and innovations to inform government decisions.