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Renowned chemical engineer and nanomedicine pioneer joining USC

Mark E. Davis, whose work holds promise for cancer treatment, will join the faculties of USC Viterbi, Keck School of Medicine of USC and USC Dornsife this fall

Mark Davis
Mark E. Davis will join USC later this year. (Photo/Courtesy of Mark Davis)

Mark E. Davis, a renowned chemical engineering professor and nanomedicine pioneer at Caltech, will join the USC faculty in October. His work on biomaterials for cancer treatment holds great promise to make medicines more targeted and effective.

Davis, one of the few academics selected to the National Academy of Engineering (1997), the National Academy of Sciences (2006) and the National Academy of Medicine (2011), will hold a Provost Professor appointment at USC, with a primary academic home in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. He will be based at the University Park Campus, the soon to open Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience and the Health Sciences Campus.

In addition to his USC Viterbi appointment, Davis also will hold joint appointments in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, as well as the Department of Chemistry at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Davis’ research efforts involve materials synthesis in two general areas: zeolites and other solids that can be used for molecular recognition and catalysis, and polymers for the delivery of a broad range of therapeutics. He also conducts pioneering work on engineering nanoparticles for cancer therapeutics.

Zeolites and molecular sieves

During his time at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia Tech) from 1981 to 1991, Davis and his research team invented a number of new zeolites and molecular sieves. They were the first to report the synthesis of a molecular sieve with uniform pore sizes larger than 1 nanometer. In recognition of his work, Davis became the first engineer to receive the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award in 1990.

While at Caltech in 1995, Davis expanded the focus of his research to biomaterials for cancer research. He did so in response to his wife’s long and painful but ultimately successful fight against breast cancer.

Davis and his team became the first researchers to successfully engineer nanoparticles made from polymeric materials specifically designed and created for human cancer therapeutics. To date, three different nanoparticles invented by his lab have gone to numerous human, cancer clinical trials that have been and are being conducted both in the United States and throughout the world.

USC plans

At USC, Davis will continue his groundbreaking work on engineering nanoparticles that can deliver drugs to the brain, research that began in recent years and could improve the treatment of brain cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, among other conditions. At Caltech, he and his team discovered how to successfully design nanoparticles that safely cross the blood-brain barrier in rodent models. Their work continues on the pathway to clinical translation of these nanoparticles that, if successful, would be a major medical breakthrough.

Davis will also serve as a strategic adviser to the deans of USC Viterbi and USC Dornsife, and will mentor faculty and students on convergent bioscience and engineering. As part of his duties at the Keck School of Medicine, Davis will serve as co-director of the MD/PhD program.

“The connection between engineering and medicine is really a focal point for me,” Davis said. “At USC, I will work on trying to be a conduit to help people do translational medicine, especially in the area of therapeutics.”

“Mark Davis is a stellar addition to our faculty,” said Provost Michael Quick. “His multidisciplinary scholarship and research is an asset to the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, where we are building bridges across our campus to transform medicine and science. I know he will help move us forward in these efforts. We are looking forward to his expertise and guidance.”

USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos said: “We are truly excited to have such a superb engineer and scientist as Mark Davis join USC. We are eagerly looking forward to his leadership in advancing the rapidly accelerating convergence between engineering and medicine.”

Rohit Varma, dean of the Keck School and director of the USC Gayle and Edward Roski Eye Institute, added, “We are delighted to welcome Mark to the Keck School family.

“He will be a tremendous resource for our MD-PhD program.  His visionary work that converges the disciplines of technology and health/medicine will inspire our students to innovate and create at the forefront of translational science.”

USC Dornsife Dean Amber D. Miller said: “USC Dornsife extends a warm welcome to Provost Professor Davis. We greatly benefit from his strong record of leadership, innovation and expertise in creating synergies across scientific fields.”

Davis has written more than 425 scientific publications, two textbooks and holds 75 U.S. patents. He is a founding editor of CaTTech and a former associate editor of Chemistry of Materials and the AIChE Journal, published by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.


Over the decades, Davis has won a raft of awards, including the Colburn and Professional Progress awards from the AIChE and the Somorjai, Ipatieff, Langmuir, Murphree and Gaden prizes from the American Chemical Society. In 2014, he received the Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research from the King of Spain, and in 2015, he was elected to the National Academy of Inventors.

A scientist with an entrepreneurial bent, Davis founded Calando Pharmaceuticals Inc., a company that created the first RNAi therapeutic to reach the clinic for treating cancer, and Avidity Bioscience.

Apart from his scientific achievements, Davis attained All American Status for Masters Track and Field in the 400-, 200- and 100-meter dashes. In 2011, he won the 400-meter dash for men of age 55-59 at the Masters World Championship.

He holds three degrees from the University of Kentucky, all in chemical engineering.

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