The bigger picture of population health.

The department’s research focus is broad and encompassing, reflecting the scope of population health and preventive medicine, from a local to national and even global scale. 

The Department of Population and Public Health Sciences stands out for its transdisciplinary approach to research and education and deep collaboration throughout the Keck School of Medicine and the University at large. Our investigative work traverses many domains:

  • cancer, respiratory and ophthalmic epidemiology;
  • genetics, biostatistics and statistical genetics;
  • clinical trials and population based studies;
  • bioinformatics;
  • childhood obesity;
  • environmental health;
  • health promotion and disease prevention;
  • addiction;
  • inequalities in global health

USC’s Research Collaboration Fund supports research collaboration among faculty and students working on interdisciplinary research topics. Below are current and previously projects funded through the USC Office of Research co-led with Department of Population and Public Health Sciences faculty.

The Community Scholars Collaborative on Health Equity Solutions (The CHES Collaborative) is a multidisciplinary collaboration that spans across nine (9) different schools, six (6) University Centers/Institutes and Children’s Hospital. Over forty (40) faculty/students interested in working on health disparities will come together to address significant health disparities problems in diverse communities; focusing on solutions within a health equity paradigm. The CHES Collaborative is significant and innovative, due to the populations and topics it addresses. We believe that to truly resolve community health disparities in sustainable and equitable ways, affected communities have to be part of the solution. CHES proposes to open a two-way system of communication between USC academics and stakeholders from impacted vulnerable communities who may participate in our research, and activities of the Collaborative. Our researchers devise and test innovative and technologically cutting-edge solutions and/or are actively engaged in addressing the so named “wicked” problems identified by the USC Provost’s office (poverty, food security, social justice, cancer, environmental justice, sustainability, immigration, climate change).

Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, Keck School of Medicine of USC
Charles Kaplan, School of Social Work

The USC Center for Mindfulness (CMS) is a research collaborative that aims to contribute meaningful understanding to the component psychological and biological processes underlying mindfulness and to contribute to the understanding of the relationship between mindfulness and well-being as well as the impact of mindfulness practice on wellness and clinical outcomes across the lifespan. Mindfulness refers to a human capacity of mind that is both trainable and has been shown to relate to well-being, resiliency, and improved clinical outcomes across a range of psychological and physical conditions. Specifically, mindfulness is marked by enhanced awareness of present-moment affects and cognitions in tandem with decreased identification with and automated reactivity to contents of awareness. The CMS will convene a group of expert USC investigators interested in studying mindfulness at USC across a range of disciplines to accomplish the goal of advancing the science of mindfulness. We will sponsor group meetings aimed at both fostering interdisciplinary discussion of the areas of greatest interest in advancing mindfulness research and obtaining extramural funding to support this effort.

Participating faculty include Buddhist scholars, world-renown experts on the neuroscience of feeling, emotion, and cognition as well as national experts in self-report science, social science, educational science and research across a wide range of clinical disciplines. We aim to coordinate with the successful Mindful USC initiative to obtain extramural research funding to assess the impact of the mindfulness practices taught through Mindful USC on individual psychological and educational outcomes as well as campus social life. In addition, we aim to engage in further studies of the impact of mindfulness on well-being and psychological functioning in diverse populations from medical students and physicians to patients with anxiety, depression, and chronic medical disease. Our long term goal is the establishment of a USC Center of Excellence in Mindfulness Science as it relates to well-being and the promotion of human health.

Baruch Cahn, Keck School of Medicine of USC
David Black, Keck School of Medicine of USC
Marc Weigensberg, Keck School of Medicine of USC
Shawn Roll, Ostrow School of Dentistry
George Salem, Ostrow School of Dentistry
Jordan Davis, School of Social Work

Addiction to tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and other behaviors poses a massive health and social burden. Given the interplay of societal, political, psychosocial, and biological influences on addiction, transdisciplinary approaches are needed to offset the addiction epidemic. Faculty with addiction expertise are members of dozens of departments and schools across USC. Yet, crossschool addiction science collaborations are modest. With around 30 inaugural members, the Institute will capitalize on USC’s existing scientific strengths— Adolescent and Young Adult Addiction Etiology and Prevention; Health Disparities in Addiction; Psychobiological Processes and Pharmacotherapy of Addiction; and Addiction Policy—and will explore new emphases. The Institute will integrate with existing training programs in social behavioral science, psychology, epidemiology, and neuroscience, and develop novel addiction science educational programs.

Adam Leventhal, Keck School of Medicine of USC
John Clapp, School of Social Work

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The USC Law & Global Health Collaboration aims to establish USC as a leader in marshaling the tools and methods of many disciplines to examine difficult issues that arise when global health and law intersect.

The collaboration will use a two-pronged approach: first, it will rely on its members to bring forward a wide range of global health topics for preliminary examination, and second, it will devote concerted attention to a particular topic each year, with the goal of stimulating academic interest amongst students and a community of scholars, ultimately creating multidisciplinary teams that can apply for external funding. The latter will draw in additional expertise from around the University, which will contribute to the group’s learning and expand the pool of faculty involved in the group’s work. Finally, to facilitate outcomes that reflect the interests of the group and to raise visibility for these issues across the university and in the broader community, an event will be held each semester or annually as appropriate, along with one larger event at the end of three years when the collaboration will host an invitational international conference to share the work it has done and learn from similar efforts being carried out at other institutions across the globe.

Sofia Gruskin, Keck School of Medicine
Alexander Capron, School of Law

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New mobile health (mHealth) technologies have the potential to reduce the cost of health care and improve health outcomes in the United States and across the globe. Today’s wireless, wearable, and deployable technologies provide unprecedented opportunities to passively capture digital ‘footprints’ that catalogue a person’s everyday behaviors, contexts, choices and even states. Data streams from a broad variety of sources – wearable and deployable sensors, social media, games, pictures and videos, location, purchase transactions, apps, and Internet use, just to name a few. We can now ubiquitously monitor physical activity, heart rate, blood pressure, stress, diet, smoking, social interactions, blood glucose, geographical location and a host of other physiological, behavioral and contextual signals in real time. Technologies like smart pill bottles and smart inhalers can monitor compliance. Wearable and deployable sensors are prolonging independent living for the elderly and disabled. Systems of wearable, deployable sensors combined with smartphones can provide real-time, personalized interventions that can be adapted on the fly as behavior changes, new data is accrued, new research comes to light, or new needs arise.  Finally, the emergence of cloud computing makes it possible to link sensors, mobile devices and powerful servers together and share data across them in a way that is transparent to the user.  These ubiquitous mobile technologies systems – powerful, networked computers always nearby – can support continuous, real-time, health monitoring and health care at both the individual and population level. Our distinctive strengths in interactive technologies, engineering, behavioral health and medicine could uniquely position USC as a major nexus for the development and testing of cutting edge user-centered technologies for treatment, prevention and health promotion across a broad swath of health domains.

Donna Spruijt-Metz, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Economic and Social Research/ Population and Public Health Sciences
William Swartout, Institute for Creative Technologies, Computer Science