U. of Southern California Pulls Leading Stem-Cell Researcher From Harvard

U. of Southern California

Andrew P. McMahon
April 29, 2012

Andrew P. McMahon

Age: 55

New job: Director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine; chair of the university's new department of stem-cell biology and regenerative medicine; professor of stem-cell biology and regenerative medicine

Old Jobs: Professor of science at Harvard University; principal faculty member at Harvard Stem Cell Institute

Highest Degree: Doctorate in genetics from University College London.

I hadn't been thinking about moving. But out of the blue, some people from the University of California at San Francisco contacted me, and asked if I'd be interested in moving there. So we started talking. And then I got a call from the University of Southern California, asking me if I knew of someone who could take over its stem-cell-research institute. And since I was talking about moving anyway, I thought about that job, too.

Honestly, USC was the dark horse. I had more friends at UCSF, and I knew the institution better. And, of course, Harvard is a great place. But I became more convinced about the potential of USC through talking to the president, the provost, and the dean of the medical school.

Stem-cell biology is at a tipping point where all sorts of new science is going to emerge. People are thinking about practical applications. That's been a strength of Harvard's stem-cell institute.

And USC is strongly invested in moving research from bench to bedside. Stem-cell research and the institute will be featured as a major part of the university's $6-billion fund-raising campaign during the next six years. Harvard and UCSF might have more depth right now, but USC is comparable in breadth, and it will be competitive in depth. There is, I think, a greater potential to build something there.

I'm bringing most of my lab with me, about 12 people. My wife, Jill McMahon, is a research scientist and works with me as the lab manager, so that part of the decision was easy. And I'll be hiring about a dozen scientists for new positions at USC.

California has made a major commitment to stem-cell research with the state's Institute for Regenerative Medicine. That sent a strong message to scientists doing this work, and it will make it easy to recruit strong researchers.

We haven't quite decided what I'm teaching yet. At Harvard, I had been part of a course concentration that presented regenerative medicine to students around the theme of rebuilding bodies. It also had strong ethics and business components. I'd like that to happen at USC.

I do know where I'll be living: Pasadena. I lived there in the 1980s, when I was doing a postdoctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology. I still know lots of people there, and we'll be collaborating. We'll also be working with scientists at UCLA. So for me it's coming home, in a way.

—As told to Josh Fischman