Mark Kester, PhD, passed away unexpectedly on July 20, 2022. Dr. Kester was a Professor in the School of Medicine Department of Pharmacology for the past 8 years with secondary appointments in Biomedical Engineering and Ophthalmology.
Dr. Kester was one of the nation’s top experts in the field of nanotechnologies for targeted drug delivery. He was recruited to UVA to serve as director of the Institute for Nanoscale and Quantum Scientific and Technological Advanced Research (nanoSTAR), which provides a collaborative platform for nanoscale research. In this role, he expanded the research interactions between engineers and scientists, while also fostering relationships between the School of Medicine, Darden, the Curry School and the School of Law. These alliances explored the many ethical, legal, commercial and intellectual issues associated with nanotechnology. He also enhanced the role of nanotechnology applications in the School of Medicine’s curriculum.
Dr. Kester played a key role in helping the UVA Cancer Center achieve comprehensive status, both in fostering cross-Grounds research and in translating his work into the clinic. He was multi-PI with Cancer Center Director Thomas Loughran, MD, on a P01 grant focused on targeting sphingolipid metabolism in acute myelogenous leukemia. He developed ceramide-based nanoliposomes that reached Phase I clinical trials in both solid tumors and AML.
He was one of the many UVA researchers who joined the fight against COVID-19. In concert with engineering associate professor Peter Kasson, MD, PhD, an FDA-approved experimental cancer drug was repurposed as a potential COVID-19 treatment, based on research in Kester’s lab showing effectiveness of the drug to limit flu infectivity. He also worked with pediatric infectious disease specialist Steven Zeichner, MD, PhD, to repurpose a platform currently used for HIV vaccine development that could help accelerate the pace of vaccine development for COVID-19.
Prior to his tenure at UVA, Dr. Kester was the G. Thomas Passananti Professor of Pharmacology at the Penn State Hershey College of Medicine and the inaugural director of the Penn State Center for NanoMedicine and Materials. He had been at Penn State for more than 18 years. Before serving at Penn State, Dr. Kester was an assistant and later associate professor at Case Western University in the Department of Nephrology. He completed his PhD at SUNY Buffalo and postdoc work at the University of Texas Health Service Center in San Antonio and the University of Illinois at Chicago. His BS degree was awarded from State University of New York, Stony Brook with a double major in Biology and Economics.
Dr. Kester had an impressive record of research accomplishments in the field of cancer and sphingolipid-based nanotherapeutics, with more than 200 peer-reviewed publications, serving as first or senior author on a third of them. He co-authored Integrated Pharmacology, recognized as a “highly commended textbook” by the British Medical Society. He was a sought-after speaker both here and abroad. His research was funded by the National Cancer Institute, National Science Foundation and The Jefferson Trust, among others. In addition to his scholarly activities, Dr. Kester educated scores of undergraduate and graduate students in the classroom and as a mentor.
Above all, Dr. Kester was an extraordinary human being, kind and passionate about all he did. We will all greatly miss him, and his legacy will endure. Our thoughts are with Mark’s family members and his many friends here at UVA.