Kathryn Whitehead is an associate 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.

A205 Doherty Hall
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Kathryn Whitehead
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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

Chemical Engineering

Whitehead's TED Talk explains mRNA, delivers hope

Katie Whitehead explains lipid nanoparticles and how mRNA drugs will provide treatments and cures for some of the world’s most deadly diseases and pathogens at the 2021 TED conference in Monterey.

American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering

Engineering faculty named AIMBE Fellows

BME’s Adam Feinberg, ChemE’s Kathryn Whitehead, BME’s Byron Yu, and BME Associate Department Head Conrad Zapanta have been elected to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering’s College of Fellows.


Whitehead quoted on COVID vaccine

ChemE’s Katie Whitehead was quoted on Healthline about a cluster of allergic reactions tied to one lot of the Moderna COVID vaccine in California.

CMU Engineering

Are strawberries the key to developing an insulin pill?

Katie Whitehead and her team have now shown that the development of a safe insulin pill is possible.

Chemical & Engineering News

Whitehead profiled on breast milk-drug delivery research

ChemE’s Katie Whitehead was recently profiled by Chemical & Engineering News about her innovative research to one day engineer the cells in breast milk to deliver drugs to sick babies.

CMU Engineering

2019 Dean’s Early Career Fellows

Three young faculty members have been granted the 2019 Dean’s Early Career Fellowship to enable their continued contributions to their respective fields.


Whitehead wins ASEE McGraw Research Award

ChemE’s Kathryn Whitehead has won the American Society for Engineering Education’s (ASEE) Curtis W. McGraw Research Award. This award recognizes outstanding early achievements by young engineering researchers, and is given to encourage the continuance of outstanding research.


Whitehead’s breast milk research featured in STAT

ChemE’s Kathryn Whitehead was recently featured in a STAT News article about her research to genetically engineer the human cells in breast milk for infant disease therapy—something no one has ever done before.

People Behind the Science

Whitehead focus of episode of the People Behind the Science Podcast

ChemE’s Katie Whitehead recently discussed her background and career on an episode of the People Behind the Science Podcast.

CMU Engineering

Engineering breast milk to treat sick infants

Kathryn Whitehead has been awarded a 2018 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award for her project to genetically engineer the human cells in breastmilk.

CMU Engineering

Delivering the future of medicine

Katie Whitehead is pioneering RNA drug delivery techniques that could enable a new wave of treatments for nearly every known disease.

CMU Engineering

Cohen-Karni wins CMBE Young Innovator Award

Tzahi Cohen-Karni has been named a 2018 Young Innovator in Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering. Cohen-Karni is a member of the Bioengineered Organs Initiative.