Titles and Affiliations

Dean’s Professor of Biological Sciences
Professor of Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering, and Urology
Keck School of Medicine
Director, USC Michelson Convergent Science Institute in Cancer (CSI-Cancer)
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California

Research area

Applying blood biopsy technology to find predictive markers that indicate how cancer will react to treatment and to understand cancer progression.


Liquid biopsy, a blood test that detects cancer cells and other tumor-associated factors, is a promising, less-invasive alternative to tumor biopsy. In addition to more readily providing information about a patients' cancer, its minimally invasive nature means several samples can be taken over time. This could allow for clinicians to have real-time data on a tumor’s response to therapy, informing treatment decisions and potentially revolutionizing the way cancer is managed. Liquid biopsies are not currently available for widespread clinical applications, but Drs. Kuhn, Hicks, and their teams are pushing this new technology to expand the scope of what information can be derived from patient blood and exploring its potential in early detection as well as predicting cancer progression and recurrence.

Progress Thus Far

Using a combination of data science, biotechnology, and mathematical tools, the teams explore an array of circulating cells thought to influence cancer evolution and metastatic progression – not just tumor cells, but immune cells and other tumor-responsive cells not previously studied by liquid biopsy. Through this work, Drs. Kuhn, Hicks, and their teams dramatically improved the methodology for liquid biopsies, leading to the creation of an ‘Atlas’ of the 16-plus distinct cell types that uniquely populate the blood of people with breast cancer and are not found in healthy individuals. Insights from the Atlas led to the development of a new clinical assay, DefineMBC, which provides comprehensive profiling of metastatic breast cancer from a liquid biopsy when a tissue biopsy is not feasible.

What’s next

The teams will share the tools they used to generate the Atlas with ongoing clinical trials, so that they can test their tools’ ability to identify clinically predictive biomarkers. They are also working to further analyze the cells captured in their Atlas—applying AI and machine learning—to leverage as much information as possible from each patient sample with the goal of generating new insights and new tools for predicting tumor progression and therapeutic response.


Dr. Kuhn is the founding director of the USC Michelson Convergent Science Institute in Cancer (CSI-Cancer). He is the Dean’s Professor of Biological Sciences and has appointments as professor of medicine, urology, biomedical engineering, and aerospace & mechanical engineering.

Dr. Kuhn is a scientist and entrepreneur with a career long commitment in personalized medicine and individualized cancer patient care. He is focused on the redesign of cancer care. His research is shedding new light on how cancer spreads through the body. This new science will lead to a personalized care strategy that is biologically informed and clinically actionable.

The USC Michelson CSI-Cancer with its laboratories in cancer proteo-genomics, patient health performance, and mathematical oncology are rapidly advancing our understanding of cancer as a disease in each individual patient, thereby improving healthcare effectiveness for cancer patients.

Dr. Kuhn is a physicist who trained initially at the Julius Maximilians Universität Würzburg, Germany, before receiving his Masters in Physics at the University of Albany, Albany, NY in 1993 and his PhD in 1995. He then moved to Stanford University where he later joined the faculties of Medicine and Accelerator Physics. From 2002 to 2014, he established a translational science program at the Scripps Research in La Jolla, CA that brought together over forty scientists from basic, engineering, and medical sciences to work on understanding the spread of cancer in the human body. He has published over 200 peer reviewed scientific articles and filed 16 patents as a result of his research. Dr. Kuhn joined USC in 2014.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Women's Cancer Research Fund Award