New USC course follows human development from stem cells to sternum

Senta Georgia and Neil Segil (Photo by Cristy Lytal/courtesy of Neil Segil)
Senta Georgia and Neil Segil (Photo by Cristy Lytal/courtesy of Neil Segil)

What don’t we know about human development, and what can go wrong? By focusing on these two big questions, a new 2-unit fall course will provide USC undergraduates with the opportunity to go beyond the standard developmental biology course work.

In MEDS 335 — Human Development: From Stem to Sternum — students will learn about the development and function of human organs, both at the physiological and cellular levels. Offered through the minor in health care studies, MEDS 335 is designed as a survey course to introduce students to the breadth of human development, and is open to all majors who have taken a general biology course.

“We want to show students how much there still is to learn about human development and how complex a process it is,” said Neil Segil, professor of research in the Department of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, and in the USC Tina and Rick Caruso Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Segil will co-teach the course with Senta Georgia, principal investigator at the Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and assistant professor at the Keck School. Both professors are also principal investigators with USC Stem Cell (, a collaborative and multidisciplinary effort bringing together more than 100 researchers and clinicians working to translate discoveries into cures.

Participation will play a major role in MEDS 335. Not only will students discuss the topics in each class, they will also give presentations throughout the semester. Because a major goal of the course is to pique students’ curiosity about development, they will enjoy a great deal of freedom in choosing their presentation topics. If they have an interest in clinical practices, they can examine the ethics of organ transplant lists. If they are more intrigued by the history of scientific gains in the field, they can present the seminal works of one of the pioneers of developmental biology.

Segil explained, “The idea is for students to let their curiosity guide them.”

Segil and Georgia want MEDS 335 to spark students’ interest in the development of the human body, so they are striving to make this course as accessible as possible.

“We hope that students not only develop a general understanding of human development,” said Segil, “but also discover an interest in one or more specific aspects of the field.”

Mentioned in this article: Senta Georgia, PhD