3D model of DNA

Unraveling the Building Blocks of Life

Think of a cell as a tremendously complicated little machine made up of many different biomolecules such as proteins, DNA, RNA, and metabolites. Until we can explore exactly what is happening deep inside the cell and from many angles, it is difficult to fix these little machines when they break. It’s no longer impossible. Today, USC Dornsife scientists are providing unprecedented access to the building blocks of life — their structures, how they interact, and how they influence our health.

Illustration of woman silhouette with brain and medical crosses

Mental Health

Physical and mental health are inextricably connected. Yet, the public dialogue frequently casts mental health in the background, and those who suffer from disorders are often stigmatized. By not only developing treatments and interventions for mental health problems but also illuminating the profound benefits of robust mental health to the public good, experts at USC Dornsife are setting new standards for our collective approach to improving human wellbeing.

diverse group of illustrated people

Healthcare Access and Equity

A person’s background, geographic location, or income level often factors heavily into the quality of healthcare and healthy food options available. USC Dornsife experts are exploring ways to overcome the barriers that prevent underserved populations from taking advantage of the very best treatments and interventions. With creativity and compassion, we can transform healthcare systems to support a more robust, productive, and equitable future for people of all backgrounds.

illustrated cancer cell and clock


While cancer “moonshots” offer tremendous hope for the future, a revolution in treatment and prevention is already improving the outlook for millions of cancer patients worldwide. From the development of personalized therapies and targeted drugs to noninvasive screening tools and early-detection methods that rely on prediction science, scientists at USC Dornsife are expanding the arsenal in the fight against cancer.

family hiking outside in woods

Expressions and Experiences of Human Health

All too often, the stories and cultural traditions that impact health are overlooked in favor of treating physical symptoms alone. At USC Dornsife, experts emphasize the need to integrate all the factors that make us human into our efforts to improve wellbeing. They investigate the history of medicine, the different ways that we frame illness, and the social norms that contribute more to our healthcare than we had ever known.

person looking through microscope in dark room and has red design on screen in background

Advanced Imaging and Medical Technology

Home to some of the most advanced technology on the planet, USC Dornsife researchers are providing unprecedented ways of seeing molecules and cells, leveraging big data to create medicine, and partnering with industry to accelerate the future of human health.


close up of interior of cryo-elctron microscope with hand touching one of the parts

Cryo-electron Microscopes

To solve some of humanity’s greatest health challenges, scientists need to see small — so small, in fact, that they can see what is happening inside individual molecules. This once impossible feat is happening now at USC, where two of the world’s most advanced cryo-electron microscopes (Cryo-EMs) are housed on campus — the result of a partnership with biotech giant Amgen and instrument maker Thermo Fisher Scientific. These powerful microscopes allow scientists to take snapshots of biological molecules in three dimensions by freezing them in place. The tool also enables researchers to see how molecules act in the presence of other molecules, which is critical for the development and acceleration of new drug therapies.

The Alarming Cost of Pollution

Environmental economist Paulina Oliva studied what exposure to air pollution does to the mind and the economy. Using data from urban Chinese populations, she found that pollution spikes correspond to higher rates of mental illness and cost China $23 billion in unnecessary health expenditures. Oliva’s research, which focuses primarily on economics in the developing world, has also provided insights on the connection between rising temperatures and infant mortality as well as the inequitable distribution of environmental damages affecting the health of underserved populations.

Portrait of Paulina Olivia at desk

Decoding Cancer: One Cell At A Time

USC Dornsife Professor of molecular biology Susan Forsburg studies how chromosome duplication and maintenance contributes to overall genome stability in a model genetic system. Loss of genome integrity and deregulation of cell division is associated with cancer, so this is a fundamental form of cancer research.