USC News

Menu Search

The Next Level

Henderson’s research on the influences of reproductive hormones and diet on cancer is ongoing and widely cited.

Brian E. Henderson, holder of the Kenneth T. Norris Jr. Chair in Cancer Prevention, has been named dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Henderson succeeds Stephen J. Ryan, who announced his resignation after 13 years as dean. Ryan is returning full-time to ophthalmology as president of the USC-affiliated Doheny Eye Institute and as the Grace and Emery Beardsley Chair in Ophthalmology at the Keck School.

“In little more than a decade, Steve Ryan has transformed the School of Medicine, attracting some of the most talented faculty in the country, raising the national visibility of the school, building state-of-the art facilities and greatly expanding the level and quality of sponsored research,“ said Lloyd Armstrong, Jr., USC’s provost.

“Brian Henderson has the administrative skills and scientific acumen to keep this momentum going and to continue to move the Keck School to the next level,” Armstrong said. “He has done that before at USC: as founding chair of the department of preventive medicine and as founding director of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute.

“He is known as a keen judge of academic talent,” Armstrong added, “and is himself a nationally respected researcher.”

USC President Steven B. Sample also paid tribute to Ryan’s legacy.

“The Keck School of Medicine is a very different institution from what it was when Steve Ryan took over in 1991,” Sample said.

“He took the school through a difficult transition with skill and grace, elevating the school along all dimensions of research, teaching and patient care. He has redefined what is possible and created the infrastructure for the Keck School to become – in his words – ‘a private research medical school in pursuit of excellence and the highest quality.’

“Brian Henderson has that same commitment to excellence and the leadership experience we need at this juncture in the development of the Keck School,” Sample added. “Not only is he nationally recognized as a scholar, but his role in helping create the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center is noted as a major accomplishment of the highest order. Both the provost and I have pledged our full support as he begins his work in the months ahead.”

Henderson called it “a great privilege” to have been asked to lead the Keck School.

“I’m looking forward to working with all the faculty, staff and students of the Keck School and to continuing the momentum that Steve Ryan has built,” Henderson said. “The rapid growth in both the clinical and research enterprise, as well as the many new facilities under construction, point toward an exciting future for the school. What a great time this is.”

Henderson first came to the Keck School in 1970 as an associate professor of pathology. Today, he is considered one of the world’s preeminent authorities in cancer epidemiology, having established the Los Angeles Cancer Surveillance Program at USC in 1972 and the Hawaii-Los Angeles Multiethnic Cohort in 1993.

He served as president of the San Diego-based Salk Institute for Biological Studies from 1993 to 1995, returning to USC in 1996.

Henderson’s specific areas of research focus on the interconnection and interplay between environmental and genetic factors in the development, treatment and prevention of a wide variety of cancers. His work on the influences of reproductive hormones on cancer, as well as that of various dietary components, is both ongoing and widely cited.

“Science is about exploring frontiers, and Los Angeles is still a frontier town,” Henderson said when he became founding director of the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute. “A great thing about USC is that it doesn’t put up the sorts of rigid walls that limit a researcher’s ability to explore.”

Henderson’s influence at the Keck School of Medicine has been widespread; he has been a driving force behind many of the school’s most ambitious and successful projects. His roles and titles have included:

founding chair of the department of preventive medicine, which he helped to build into a department that is recognized as one of the best in the world today;

director of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, a position he took in 1983, when the facility first opened; his influence was among those that turned USC/Norris into one of the leading institutions of its kind; and

director of the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, which opened in 2002, and where he led efforts that thus far have netted more than a dozen top-notch scientists.

Henderson is perhaps most gratified by the work he does in recruiting and mentoring young scientists.

“Looking back, I’m really proud to have helped build the scientific base of the medical school,” he said in a 1999 interview. “Mentoring students is something I just love.”

Henderson was inducted into the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1992 and was awarded the Presidential Medallion, USC’s highest honor, in 1999.

Henderson’s early research focus was on virology, a pursuit that took him to Africa with the Arbovirology Unit of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he studied yellow fever. “At that time, we knew virtually nothing about the causes of cancer,” Henderson once recalled. “Then Congress passed the National Cancer Act and declared war on cancer.”

It was that war that brought Henderson to USC and to his long and storied cancer research career.

A native of California, Henderson earned his undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his M.D. from the University of Chicago Medical School in 1962. He completed his internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Henderson and his wife, Judith, reside in San Marino. They have five children.

Contact Brenda Maceo at (323) 442-2830.

Top stories on USC News