USC Stem Cell scientists are advancing our understanding of how the body develops, maintains and repairs the brain, nerves and senses. They are using stem cells to find new regenerative therapies for conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, neurodegenerative diseases, brain tumors, hearing loss and vision loss.


  • Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. An estimated 5.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, causes progressive paralysis and usually results in fatal respiratory failure within three to five years of diagnosis.
  • Brain tumors are the most common cancer and leading cause of cancer-related death in children fourteen years and younger.
  • Twenty percent of Americans—or 48 million people—report some degree of hearing loss.
  • More than 20 million Americans report some degree of vision loss.



Confocal microscopy image of an adult zebrafish head with neural crest-derived cells in red. The Crump lab has used single-cell sequencing to understand how these cells build and repair the head skeleton, with implications for understanding human craniofacial birth defects and improving repair of skeletal tissues. (Image by Hung-Jhen Chen/Crump Lab)

A crowning achievement in understanding head development

Cranial neural crests cells, or CNCCs, contribute to many more body parts than their humble name suggests. These remarkable stem cells not only form most of the skull and facial skeleton in all vertebrates ranging from fish to humans, but also can generate everything from gills to the cornea. To understand this versatility, scientists from …

Yichen Li

Curiosity, commitment and compassion drive Yichen Li’s research in neurodegenerative diseases

Yichen Li has always been driven to understand the world around her. Growing up in an Eastern province in China, Li’s inquisitive nature steered her toward science. “When I was a girl, I wouldn’t stop asking my dad questions, such as what is light, electricity or heat,” she said. Li’s father shared the same delight …

Image courtesy of the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC

USC collaboration helps FaceBase reach 1,000-dataset milestone

The data repository allows craniofacial scientists to share data, which could ultimately lead to improved care for patients with craniofacial developmental disorders. Rapid technological development in the past decade has allowed scientists to generate more data than ever before. At the same time, increased calls for transparency, reproducibility and data sharing in the scientific community …

All Brain, Nerves and Senses News


The Chen laboratory uses mouse genetics and human stem cells and organoids to study brain development and craniofacial neuroscience. The goal is to develop therapeutic strategies to treat developmental brain and craniofacial disorders.
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