Logo: University of Southern California

Viterbi and Keck Faculty Collaborate on HST@USC

A daylong retreat featured panel discussions with leaders from several interdisciplinary research groups within the university
Sara Reeve
March 30, 2010 —

The USC pursuit of science at the “intersection of biomedicine and technology” moved forward at an organizing symposium held on March 24 in the Mayer Auditorium. Leaders from the Keck School of Medicine and the Viterbi School of Engineering united to discuss plans for HST@USC, the health sciences and technology venture designed to bring together physicians, engineers and students.

“There is a lot of interest in taking research from bench to bedside, from the research lab to the outpatient clinic,” said Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School. “In general, those areas where we cross disciplines and work across boundaries are among the most exciting and productive things we can do.”

HST@USC organizing committee, from left: Viterbi Senior Associate Dean for Research Maja Matarić; Keck Associate Dean for Curriculum Allan Abbott; Terry Sanger; Chair of the Viterbi School Departmment of Biomedical Engineering Michael C.K. Khoo; and Keck Vice Dean for Research Elizabeth Fini.                       
The ambitious agenda for the daylong retreat featured panel discussions with leaders from several interdisciplinary research groups within the university. These teams shared best practices and challenges of communicating and working across disciplines. In addition, they spoke about the education goals of HST@USC, and the role of students.

“At USC, we want to create the best doctors and best engineers and teach them to work together–becoming experts in collaboration,” said Terry Sanger, associate professor of neurology at the Keck School and of biomedical engineering at the Viterbi School. “Our students will be taking classes together, doing projects together and learning from each other. The students become the glue that keeps us together.”

The idea behind HST@USC was originally promoted at a joint Keck-Viterbi research retreat in October 2008, sparked by a similar interdisciplinary educational program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard, with substantial follow-up activity even prior to the recent events.

USC academic and clinical leaders have devised a unique program encompassing educational, research and clinical components. The education curriculum is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2011, with initial admission of 10 medical students and 10 engineering doctoral students. They will complete four core classes, as well as several research projects together during the course of their education.

Two deans and an Institute of Medicine member: from left, Carmen A. Puliafito, Keck School, IOM member Mark Humayun, Yannis C. Yortsos, Viterbi School.

With the student application deadline for the 2011-2012 school year rapidly approaching in October 2010, program leaders are keen to develop the framework of HST@USC. “Now we have to move forward as an organizing structure,” said Puliafito. “While Viterbi and Keck are the founding partners of this enterprise, this is truly something that draws in the entire university. It’s a very exciting place to be.”

Yannis Yortsos, dean of the Viterbi School, closed the discussion with a pledge of support and confidence in the new program. “This intersection will provide unique advantages to the university, and it is a sign of the importance of the connection between engineering and medicine,” he said. “This partnership is a natural fit, and we are completely behind it. We believe it is the right thing to do.”

A reception following the gathering honored Mark Humayun, a faculty member in both the Keck School and the Viterbi School, for becoming a member of the Institute of Medicine.

-- by Sara Reeve