HBSE Leadership

Our Mission

Our mission is to create a supportive academic environment that provides our students with outstanding research and educational opportunities and prepares them to become leaders in their chosen fields.  Our office ensures that the curricula and courses in all graduate programs under the auspices of Health & Biomedical Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine follow best practices for optimal learning. We also provide support to faculty in their goals to become effective educators who develop and teach innovative courses that provide students with an educational experience that will well serve them in their careers.

Dr. Peggy Farnham, PhD
Dr. Peggy Farnham, PhD is the William M. Keck Professor of Biochemistry, the Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, and the Associate Director of Basic Science at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center (USC NCCC). In the immediate past, she served as the Interim Director of the USC NCCC prior to the recruitment of Dr. Caryn Lerman, the current Director.

Dr. Farnham is very excited about this new leadership opportunity, as teaching, training, and mentoring students has been a passion of hers for the past three decades. She has been a dedicated and successful scientific advisor and mentor to 20 postdoctoral fellows, 33 PhD graduate students, 9 MS students and over 31 undergraduate students, to date. In this new role, she is particularly looking forward to working with all trainees in health, population science and biomedical sciences at Keck, and in strategically working with the undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs in providing an excellent learning experience. She is committed to recruiting the best and brightest, continuously refining our course and programmatic options, in ensuring training in cutting edge technologies and theories, and in providing an environment that is supportive for a number of different biomedical career development opportunities.

Dr. Farnham has been a leader in the genome-wide study of mammalian transcription factors by developing technologies that combine chromatin immunoprecipitation with genomic microarray hybridization (ChIP-chip assays) and with high throughput sequencing (ChIP-seq). Her lab was the first to develop ChIP protocols for mammalian cells and for the study of tumors from cancer patients, focusing on key cancer pathways regulated by E2F, MYC, and Beta-catenin. More recently, her lab has been a major contributor to the production of ChIP-seq datasets in normal and tumor cells for site-specific factors, histone-modifying complexes, and modified histones, developing protocols that are widely used by the field. Dr. Farnham has also been a long-term member of the ENCODE Consortium, whose goal is to map all the functional elements in the human genome, mainly focusing on cancer cell lines. She was a member of the NIH Roadmap Epigenome Mapping Consortium, which published epigenomes for ~100 normal cell types. She has been part of the PsychENCODE project, which is seeking to expand the ENCODE assays to the analysis of psychiatric disorders.
Current projects in her lab are focused on oncogenic transcription factors, the identification and characterization of cancer-associated enhancers, and epigenomic regulation of cancer cell phenotypes. She also has expertise in genome engineering, employing genomic nucleases and artificial transcription factors based on zinc finger, TALEN, and CRISPR platforms.

Dr. Farnham and her colleagues have been authors of over 170 peer-reviewed original research, including a significant number in top journals such as Nature, Cell, Science and Nature Reviews Genetics. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was awarded the prestigious Herbert A. Sober Lectureship from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Aside from her stellar qualifications as a scientist, Dr. Farnham has held leadership roles at the Keck School of Medicine as both the chair of a basic science department (since July, 2015) and as an associate dean for graduate programs (from 2013 to 2015). Her own trainees are characterized by their success in developing their careers in science, and the large number of awards they have received for research.

Dr. Farnham was recruited to the Keck School in 2011 from the University of California, Davis, where she was Professor of Pharmacology and Associate Director of the UC Davis Genome Center. She began her academic career at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where she rapidly progressed through the ranks to Professor at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research. She received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Rice University and doctorate in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University. She performed her postdoctoral training at Stanford University.

Dr. Ite A. Offringa, PhD
Dr. Ite A. Offringa, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Surgery and of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. She is an expert in the molecular biology of lung cancer. She has participated in many interdisciplinary collaborations with clinicians, epidemiologists and biostatisticians, including her work on the analysis of the effects of smoking on the epigenome (the layer of information on top of the genes) and the genetic risk for lung cancer. The Offringa lab identified a molecular alteration believed to be the trigger of at least one type of autoimmune response seen in SCLC patients; it provides potential new therapeutic options.

Besides her research interests, Dr. Offringa has a strong interest in science education. She brought science into the high school classroom for many years and routinely speaks at STEM field informational sessions for high school students and community college students. Dr. Offringa has mentored clinical and postdoctoral fellows and students at all levels in her research lab, including high school, undergraduate, Master’s, and PhD students for over twenty years. She also teaches a grant-writing class to first-year PhD students.

Dr. Offringa’s commitment to education is further exemplified by her role as Director (2008-2020) of UCS’s umbrella PhD program PIBBS (Programs in Biomedical and Biological Sciences), which recruits a diverse body of high-quality PhD applicants to USC. Dr. Offringa is the Keck School of Medicine’s Associate Dean for PhD Graduate Programs and the Director of Postdoctoral Affairs. Dr. Offringa was born in the Netherlands but lived in Spain, Venezuela, and the Netherlands Antilles before coming to the United States. She is a native speaker of Dutch, English and Spanish. In her free time, she loves spending time with her family and her four dogs.

Axel Schonthal PhD
Axel Schönthal, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. He is Director of the departmental master’s degree program, a Faculty Fellow of USC’s Center for Excellence in Teaching, and Course Director for the interdepartmental Cell Biology course.

Dr. Schönthal received dual master’s degrees in biology and education at the University of Karlsruhe, Germany, followed by a doctoral degree at the Institute of Genetics at the University of Karlsruhe, based on his study of oncogenes. He performed his postdoctoral work at UC San Diego’s Cancer Center in La Jolla, where he worked in the areas of molecular and cellular cancer biology. He joined USC as an Assistant Professor in 1992 and later was promoted to Associate Professor.

Dr. Schönthal’s current research at USC uses preclinical and translational models to pursue the development of novel agents and novel delivery methods toward improved cancer therapeutic regimens, in particular for cancer types that originate in the brain or migrate there from systemic origins. As of 2021, he has authored and coauthored over 180 scholarly articles.

Dr. Richard Watanabe, PhD
Dr. Richard Watanabe, PhD is a Professor of Population and Public Health Sciences and Physiology & Neuroscience and is Vice-Chair for Education for the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine. He is a three-time alumnus of USC, receiving his Ph.D. from USC in exercise science in 1995. He then transitioned to the University of Michigan School of Public Health, where he performed postdoctoral training in statistical genetics in the Department of Biostatistics and subsequently joined the department there as a research faculty. Fortunately, Dr. Watanabe returned to USC in 2000 to join the faculty in Population and Public Health Sciences.

Dr. Watanabe’s research focuses on the pathophysiology and genetics of Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Over the course of his career, Dr. Watanabe has developed mathematical models to quantify insulin secretion in vivo, was involved in the discovery of genetic loci underlying risk for diabetes and obesity and has assessed genotype-phenotype relationships to understand the physiologic effect of genetic variation on the pathophysiology of diabetes and obesity. His research program uniquely integrates physiology, statistical genetics and genomics, applied mathematics, in vivo physiologic methodologies, and clinical studies.

Dr. Watanabe has taught extensively in undergraduate and graduate programs at USC and has mentored numerous undergraduate, graduate, and medical students. In his role as Vice-Chair for Education for the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences, he has overseen the integration of the department’s educational enterprise, rebranded and marketed the programs to increase applications and improve student quality, and introduced new degree programs and initiatives. He has also worked to improve student diversity at the Keck School of Medicine of USC through his participation in the USC Bridging the Gaps summer program and the NIH/NHLBI-funded LA’s Biostatistical Education Summer Training program (LA’s BEST@USC) and as co-leader of the NIH/NIDDK-funded Summer Program in Diabetes and Obesity Research (SPIDOR).

Dr. Kevin Lohenry, PhD
Dr. Kevin Lohenry, PhD is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Director of the Division of Physician Assistant Studies. He has served as Vice-Chair for Education for the Department of Family Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine (KSOM) and recently served as the Director of the COVID-19 Project Management Center. Dr. Lohenry received his degrees as a physician assistant from Midwestern University, Downers Grove, IL, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE. He went on to practice in internal and family medicine and completed his doctorate from Capella University in 2010.

Dr. Lohenry joined USC in 2011, and he has received federal funding to study interprofessional education and practice as well as numerous state grants to support diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the health professions. He has led the Primary Care Physician Assistant Program to a top 10 ranking in the U.S. News and World Report and their national status as a leader in innovative and digital education work along with major contributions to diversity for the PA profession.

Dr. Lohenry has served in numerous roles for the PA profession, including President for the Physician Assistant Education Association and as a Director at Large for the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. He also represented the PA profession as a veteran of the United States Navy on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces Initiative. Over the past year, he has served on the Advisory Steering Committee and co-chaired the Leadership Workgroup for the Gender Equity in Medicine and Science group at KSOM.