Andrew McMahon to Join USC Dornsife’s Department of Biological Sciences

ByLeslie Ridgeway

Biologist Andrew P. McMahon will leave Harvard University to join the Keck School of Medicine of USC on July 1 as a Provost Professor and the inaugural holder of the W. M. Keck Professorship of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.

McMahon also will hold an appointment in the Department of Biological Sciences in USC Dornsife. In addition, he will chair the newly created Department of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the Keck School and serve as director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC.

“As USC advances its ambitious fundraising campaign, we will continue to make bold investments in recruiting world-class faculty,” said USC president C. L. Max Nikias. “Dr. McMahon’s appointment marks a significant milestone in these efforts, and will dramatically bolster the medical and biological sciences at the university, elevating our programs to an entirely new level.”

McMahon currently is the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science on the faculty of arts and sciences at Harvard and is on the executive committee of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. In 1993, he joined Harvard as a full professor, and from 2001 to 2004, served as chair of its Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. McMahon currently is a professor in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and principal faculty member in the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

McMahon said he decided to come to USC because of university leadership’s compelling vision for the future and a strong potential to achieve it.

“There’s an obvious investment being made to advance the university as a whole and to enhance the stem cell and regenerative medicine program,” he said. “It’s also quite appealing to have the opportunity to build something at an institution that is clearly heading to the big leagues.”

In establishing his laboratory at USC, McMahon will bring a team of accomplished researchers from Harvard. He will be charged with recruiting a new generation of the world’s top biological scientists to USC campuses. USC anticipates building a core group of faculty to pursue science that will benefit the university’s entire life sciences research enterprise, as well as contribute to larger efforts to better understand basic human biology.

In addition to conducting research and leading USC’s regenerative medicine and biology efforts, McMahon will teach undergraduates and graduate students at USC, fulfilling a commitment to helping students learn basic scientific concepts.

“During the recruitment process, Dr. McMahon specifically requested the opportunity to teach undergraduate students each year at USC Dornsife – a testament to his belief in the importance of mentoring future scientists,” said Elizabeth Garrett, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “This will be an outstanding opportunity for USC’s undergraduates to learn directly from a world-renowned scientist.”

McMahon also will work with USC’s clinicians to develop new stem cell therapies.

“In leading the Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC, Dr. McMahon will bridge our Health Sciences campus, the research departments at the Keck hospitals, and a number of schools and academic departments on our University Park campus, including the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and our biology and chemistry departments within USC Dornsife,” said Keck School dean Carmen A. Puliafito. “The Broad Center will provide a central core around which these scientists — and those at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles — can come together.”

McMahon and his team study the mechanisms that underlie the assembly, repair and regeneration of critical organ systems, and have made enormous contributions to the understanding of the way the kidney matures during development. In building knowledge on these subjects, they seek to provide an informed, logic-based platform for translating basic research into practical applications in the area of regenerative medicine. This carries enormous potential for the treatment of human disease, as stem cell science offers a particularly broad reach. The research can provide insights into normal and abnormal development in human cells, and it holds the potential for the repair and replacement of human tissues and organs.

McMahon’s basic research has yielded important findings into the biology of mammalian signaling factors that have been translated into clinical medicine with the development of a novel anti-cancer drug, Vismodegib, the first FDA-approved hedgehog pathway inhibitor.

Harvard colleague Clifford Tabin, the George Jacob and Jacqueline Hazel Leder Professor and chair of the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, said he would miss working with McMahon, but he praised the administrator’s leadership abilities in research.

“He has clear vision, is good at organizing and knows great science from mediocre science,” Tabin said. “This is a great opportunity for him to develop something on a larger scale. He is one of the people at the forefront of regenerative medicine, breaking ground in creative ways while maintaining rigorous thinking.”

Before arriving at Harvard, McMahon led the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the Roche Institute for Molecular Biology in Nutley, N.J. He previously held the position of staff scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, where he started his independent research program.

While at the National Institute, McMahon worked with Brigid Hogan, the George Barth Geller Professor and Chair of the Department of Cell Biology at Duke University and director of the Duke University Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine program. She lauded his innovative work in kidney development research.

“He’s done some superb work for many years,” Hogan said. “He has done interesting work in embryonic development and in the area of stem cells in many organ systems, but most recently in the development of the kidney. He has pioneered new ways of looking at the complex three-dimensional organization of the kidney. This has had far-reaching importance as the model for development of other organ systems but also for diseases that afflict the kidney.”

McMahon received his bachelor’s degree from St. Peter’s College at Oxford University and his Ph.D. from University College in London. He subsequently worked for three years as a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology.

McMahon is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and The Royal Society (London), as well as an elected associate member of the European Molecular Biology Organization. He has served as an editor of the journals Development and Developmental Biology and on the editorial boards of several other scientific journals, including Genes & Development and Current Biology.

McMahon’s wife, Jill McMahon, also an accomplished scientist, will continue her research at USC as part of her husband’s team. The McMahons’ daughter, Samantha, is a senior at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, and their son, Sean, will start high school in the fall. An avid trail and marathon runner, McMahon is eager to learn about recommended running trails in the Los Angeles area that he and his wife might explore.