Biography: Katherine Ferrara

On May 16, 2011, Professor Katherine Ferrara was presented with an Outstanding Mentor Award from the Consortium for Women and Research at UC Davis. These awards honor faculty members who have engaged in sustained and successful mentoring of women at the university; Ferrara was nominated by students and peers, many of whom wrote lengthy and quite moving letters of support.

Katherine Ferrara
UC Davis biomedical engineer Kathy Ferrara was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for her contributions to the theory and applications of biomedical ultrasound technology. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis photo)

This accolade was merely one example of Ferrara’s ability to juggle ambitious responsibilities in teaching, research and administration: the latter, most impressively, when she was recruited to help found the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering, and then served a five-year term as the department’s first chair, from 2000 to ’05. When she stepped down, the fledgling department already ranked 23rd in the nation, with extramural expenditures that were among the country’s largest.

This was Ferrara’s second stint on the Davis campus. After obtaining undergraduate and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Sacramento State University, she earned a doctorate in the same field from UC Davis in 1989. She then held appointments at the University of Virginia and New York’s Cornell Medical College, while maintaining an associate professorship at Sacramento State. Upon her return to UC Davis in 1998, her efforts in the nascent Department of Biological Engineering included planning for her department’s space in what eventually would become the campus’ Genome and Biomedical Sciences Facility.

During the subsequent decade, her research focused on cancer diagnosis and the paradigm-shifting concept of “image-guided drug delivery,” a form of individualized therapy wherein imaging methods — ultrasound, PET, MRI and CT — are used to guide and monitor the localized, targeted delivery of therapeutics to (for example) a cancer tumor. Ferrara’s lab also is developing molecularly targeted drug delivery vehicles.

Elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2014, Ferrara is a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, and the Biomedical Engineering Society. She was chosen to deliver the 2011 Chandran Lecture at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering; the lecture series focuses on advances in brain tumor imaging. In March 2012, she gave the 2011-12 Adamczyk Lecture at Case Western Reserve University; this lecture series showcases the use of cutting-edge technology in the development of noninvasive diagnostics and novel therapies, particularly in the context of cancer treatments.

In both cases, Ferrara’s selection reflects the degree to which she has been recognized as a nationally respected scientist whose work will have a major impact on medical technology, now and in the future.

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