About the Center

The USC Research Center for Liver Diseases (RCLD) was originally founded in March 1995 (application submitted 11/93) and has been continuously funded by a grant from Digestive Diseases Research Core Centers (DDRCC) program of NIH/NIDDK for four consecutive 5-year cycles through 2/15 (a 9 month no-cost extension is currently in effect). Dr. Kaplowitz has been the Center Director since 1995.

RCLD’s overarching vision is to provide a home and an organized central focus through the Center mechanism for the achievement of its goal for the intellectual and creative interplay between basic and clinical investigations. The pursuit and achievement of this goal and vision is through the provision of: Core facilities, which provide widely utilized routine, as well as highly specialized technologies; Pilot/Feasibility (P/F) Project support, which preferentially funds innovative new studies of young investigators relevant to the Center’s themes to enhance their career development; Enrichment Program, through regular seminars and Annual Symposia for exchange of ideas, stimulation of collaborations and intellectual exchange.

Neil Kaplowitz, MD

Neil Kaplowitz, MD
Program Director

The Center is dedicated to fostering and facilitating the interdisciplinary and collaborative research of its 58 current members and the career development of junior faculty. Currently, thirty-seven members contribute to a stable research base in excess of ten million dollars (direct cost) annual funding, with a growing translational emphasis. A key motivation from the beginning was to develop essential Core facilities to enable scientists at USC to conduct collaborative research in the prevention and treatment of Liver Diseases. Our Center has “built” essentially all of its Cores with equipment funds from NIH, donors, and institutional support. These Cores are mainly Center specific in that they are “owned” and operated by the RCLD for the benefit of its members. We are extremely excited and optimistic about the future and look forward to successfully renewing the Center grant with a strong Research Base composed of a large number of new members who have joined a group of well-established members, focused thematic orientation, vital Core facilities, P/F Project and Enrichment Program, all of which augment our Themes and attract new members and faculty collaborations. All of this reflects the very dynamic nature of our Center and its ability to adapt and progress in response to the needs of its members and the changes in the local and national environment.

A key strategy of the Center is to attract the participation of young investigators in digestive diseases and established investigators from other disciplines and to promote the career development of young investigators making the transition to independence. Interdisciplinary participation is crucial in carrying out this plan. Thus, RCLD has the enthusiastic participation of Center members from nearly every Department, but mainly Medicine, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, Gerontology, Microbiology & Immunology, Pathology, Pediatrics, Pharmacology & Pharmaceutical Sciences, Stem Cell Biology, and Surgery.

In summary, the key goal of RCLD is the facilitation (Cores) and fostering (Cores, P/F Projects, Enrichment Program) of interdisciplinary collaborative research, which leads to a better understanding of the pathobiology of diseases of the liver and digestive tract and the development of new treatments for these diseases.

Program Summary

Specific Aims of the Center

  1. To provide the essential services offered by biomedical Core facilities to facilitate the research of the membership to advance our understanding of the pathogenesis and treatment of liver and digestive disease.
  2. To foster collaboration between Center members through the use of Cores, the Enrichment Program, and Special Interest Groups (SIG).
  3. To foster career development through availability of scientific Cores, Enrichment Program, and Pilot/Feasibility support and attract the talents of established investigators from other fields to apply their expertise to liver and digestive disease research and to collaborate with Center members.
  4. Facilitate the technological training and scientific development of postdoctoral fellows, K awardees and junior faculty through the services of the Cores, the Enrichment Program and Pilot/Feasibility funding.


The Center’s membership and activities have led to thematic organization of a Research Base devoted to Liver Disease with four major Themes:

  1. Viral hepatitis and hepatocellular carcinoma
  2. Steatohepatitis and fibrosis
  3. Liver injury (hepatotoxicity and mitochondrial pathobiology)
  4. Repair, regenerative medicine, and developmental biology

Scientific Cores

  1. Cell Separation and Culture (CSC) Core: Director, Bangyan Stiles, Ph.D. (bstiles@pharmacy.usc.edu) Associate Director, Zhang-Xu Liu, M.D., Ph.D. (zxliu@usc.edu). This Core has recently been expanded from a longstanding Central Core, which has been providing primary hepatocyte cultures of normal and diseased mice and rats and various cell lines to a wide range of investigators, by addition of a Cell Separation subcore, to perform FACS analysis and magnetic cell sorting/isolation. Under the new leadership of Dr. Stiles the Core is to provide isolation of liver progenitor cells, culture of iPS cells and generation of Cas9 liver cell lines.
  2. Cell and Tissue Imaging (CTI) Core: Director, Sarah Hamm-Alvarez. Ph.D. (shalvar@pharmacy.usc.edu). This critical Core was recently separated from its predecessor core and reorganized. It provides critical instrumentation (confocal and fluorescence microscopy) and technical support for cell biology and pathophysiology studies.  In addition, the Core’s services are to be expanded upon renewal of the Center grant with support of the Keck School of Medicine to provide access to three other advanced and cutting-edge microscopy facilities at Health Sciences and University Park campuses.
  3. Liver Histology (LH) Core: Director, Gary C. Kanel, M.D. (gkanel@dhs.lacounty.gov). This Core was also recently separated from its predecessor core and reorganized. It provides a wide range of standard and customized slide preparation, liver histochemistry and immunohistochemistry. Additionally, it offers state-of-the-are laser-capture microscopy resources and instrumentation, along with expert technical support. Dr. Kanel provides expert consultation in interpretation of findings, collaborations and technical oversight.
  4. Analytic, Metabolic, Instrumentation (AMI) Core / Proteomics Subcore: Director, Murad Ookhtens, Ph.D. (murad.ookhtens@usc.edu), Associate Director, Ebrahim Zandi, Ph.D. (zandi@usc.edu). This Core is composed of a Central Core, Directed by Dr. Ookhtens, which maintains and offers training and access to a large base of major and expensive equipment for shared use, including RT-PCR systems, plate readers, infrared imaging, ultra- and high-speed centrifuges, Seahorse Flux analyzer, plus a versatile multi-detection HPLC system, equipped with PDA, fluorescence, electrochemical and radioactivity detectors, supporting a diverse menu of analytical and preparative applications. Dr. Zandi directs the Proteomics Subcore, supported under the Proteomics Core of Keck School of Medicine, which he directs. See: http://keck.usc.edu/en/Research/Centers_and_Programs/Proteomics_Core_Facility.aspx

Pilot/Feasibility (P/F) Project Program

Director Laurie DeLeve, MD, PhD (deleve@usc.edu). P/F Project Program is a magnet that pulls investigators into the Liver Center and has helped sustain a robust cadre of investigators in the Liver Center over the last 20 years. The emphasis has been to fund young investigators, who are more likely to stay in digestive disease research if their P/F Project is successful. The research potential of P/F Project holders is markedly enhanced by the core facilities of the Liver Center, which enable investigators to utilize research methodology that would otherwise be unavailable or unaffordable, and an Enrichment Program that has promoted numerous collaborations.

Enrichment Program

Director Andrew Stolz, MD, (astolz@usc.edu). The RCLD conducts a well-established and highly successful Enrichment Program through its seminar series, annual symposia and meetings of Special Interest Groups (SIG) of our Themes. We closely interact with the Southern California Research Center for Alcoholic Liver and Pancreatic Disease (ALPD), sharing a seminar time slot with each conducting complementary annual symposia in the spring and winter. The Enrichment Program is of great benefit to our senior and junior faculty members and the many postdoctoral fellows and graduate students who work with members as well as the entire University community. Recent changes in the Enrichment Program are aimed at the research progress of junior faculty, allowing for more interactions with trainees during biannual poster sessions and strengthened interactions within our SIG programs by offering twice yearly minisymposium/workshops geared to specific areas of research interests.

Center Structure