Funding opportunities

CIRM-[REDACTED] Stem Cell Training Program

Funding Type: 
Research Training II
Grant Number: 
Funds requested: 
$1 569 729
Funding Recommendations: 
Not recommended
Grant approved: 
Public Abstract: 
We propose a multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary Type III CIRM Training Program to train Post-doctoral Fellows. It is anticipated that there will be 6 Post-doctoral Fellows trained per year for a period of 2 years, with the option to renew for an additional year. The CIRM sponsored training program will include both didactic courses and laboratory courses as well as seminar and literature-based lectures/discussion that will encompass the strengths of researchers and clinicians at our institute and our collaborators at affiliated institutions in [REDACTED]. The didactic courses will cover 2 subject areas: 1) Embryonic and Adult Stem Cell Biology and 2) Ethical, Social, Legal, and Political Implication of Stem Cell Research. The laboratory courses will feature numerous technologies relevant to stem cell research that will be embodied in 2 courses: 1) Generation and Culture of Pluripotent and Multipotent Stem Cells and 2) Generation of Transgenic Stem Cells. In addition, there are seven Topics (Neurobiology: Development and Disease; Cardiology: Development and Disease; Genetic, Cellular, and Clinical Basis of Disease; Epidemiological Basis for Therapeutic Development; Adult and Hematopoietic Stem Cell Biology; Scientific Entrepreneurism; Molecular Genetics of Embryonic Stem Cells that will be covered in a seminar/literature-based course that will be supplement the didactic and lab courses that will comprise a Stem Cell Seminar Series, a Stem Cell Journal Club, and a yearly Stem Cell Meeting. The trainees will have research opportunities in the areas of embryonic and adult stem cell growth and differentiation, genetic diseases, cell and gene therapy, cancer biology, cardiac biochemistry, neurobiology and neurodegenerative diseases. Scientists and clinicians from our institute and affiliated institutions are committed to contribute their expertise to train postdoctoral fellows in stem cell biology, ethics, and practical laboratory skills as well as provide them with manuscript and grant writing opportunities that will prepare them for careers in academic medicine and/or biotechnology.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
We propose a multi-institutional, multidisciplinary Type III CIRM Training Program to train Post-doctoral Fellows in regenerative medicine and human embryonic stem cell biology. Regenerative medicine represents the effort of cell biologists to invent a new approach to the problem of degenerative disease. Human embryonic stem (hES) cells have the potential to become all of the cells in the human body, and their unique properties give researchers the hope that from these primitive cells new therapies can result that may be available for future medical applications. We have created a multi-institutional training grant that will pool the resources and experience of stem cell scientists at 3 research institutes, 1 fertility clinic and 2 biotechnology companies in [REDACTED]. This multi-disciplinary team of scientists will be able to train and mentor trainees in basic research and translational development with the goal of providing a bench to bedside scope of experience. This will benefit California by training a new cadre of scientists capable of participating more fully in moving basic research discoveries into the medical clinic.
Review Summary: 
This is a proposal to develop a Type III program to train six postdoctoral fellows. Although the training program will be based at the applicant institution, the program includes collaboration with a well-regarded IVF clinic as well as two other affiliated research institutions. Proposed coursework includes required didactic courses in stem cell biology and the ethical, legal and social implications of stem cell biology, required laboratory courses in the generation and culture of stem cells and generation of transgenic stem cells, and a required stem cell journal club program. The reviewers found the description of the proposed training program to be lacking in adequate details in its description of the inter-institutional collaborations for coursework and mentoring and in the discussion of program leadership and administration. Although the program is centered at the applicant institution, collaborating institutes are proposed to participate at many levels, both in courses and research mentoring. Reviewers expressed concern about the overall coordination between the different groups, particularly since this is a new undertaking. They were unclear about the relationships between the institutions and the level of commitment of the participating institutions, and they found the precise roles of associated individuals to be unclear. For example, an unnamed faculty member at an affiliated institution has been proposed to teach human reproductive endocrinology; it is unclear what support this affiliated institution will provide the program, as no letters from the institution’s administrators were included. The reviewers were confused about what type of trainees are the focus of the proposed program; in the abstract and budget sections of the application, only postdoctoral fellows are described as the focus of the training program, while both postdoctoral and clinical fellows are proposed to be trained in the proposal. The reviewers noted that the program is designed to provide the required CIRM courses including didactic courses on human ES cell biology and adult stem cell biology, and on ethics and social aspects of stem cell research, and they considered these courses as well organized and appropriately taught by experts in the field. Reviewers further commented that the two lab courses would complement the didactic courses, appear complete and well organized, and will be taught by faculty members with the appropriate experience. One concern about the courses was the number of course leaders and a lack of clarity about responsibilities for course management and teaching responsibilities. Reviewers commented that that there appears to be no elective courses, although seminars, grand rounds and field trips to stem cell oriented biotechnology firms are cited as additional training activities. The reviewers commented that the applicant had been thoughtful in the planning of a seminar series, which seems broad in its scope. The topic of Scientific Entrepreneurism is novel and reflects the diversity of the program’s faculty. The reviewers considered at least some of the laboratories listed for training should allow CIRM scholars to obtain a solid set of research skills using stem cells. They specifically cited the unique training opportunities available through collaboration with an excellent IVF clinic and through the OB/GYN department at the applicant institution. However, they also questioned the inclusion of two laboratories at an affiliate that do not appear to be engaged in stem cell research. Reviewers found the Program Director (PD) to be well qualified to lead the proposed program. She/he is a very senior scientist with extensive experience in training undergraduate and graduate students. Many of his/her trainees have been independently successful, providing evidence of the PD’s training ability. Reviewers noted that seven other persons, all excellent scientists with ample experience with stem cell biology, were listed in leadership roles for the program, but their exact role in the proposed program, besides serving as mentors, are unknown. This lack of clarity extended to the steering committee. No members of the steering committee are named, nor is there any mention of the frequency of committee meetings. The reviewers considered the trainee selection process to be satisfactory. Trainees will be selected for a two-year program with the potential for a third year depending on progress. Assessment of this will be via yearly written reviews by the mentor, based on a range of criteria. It is proposed that the mentor and trainee will meet on weekly basis. The reviewers found proposal for program evaluation to be appropriate. The effectiveness of the program will be judged by the steering committee on a number of criteria, but most importantly, by the career development of former trainees. Reviewers considered the proposed mentors to be of good quality, with appropriate experience in stem cell biology and disease. However, if clinical fellows were to be part of this program, the reviewers were unclear as to whether these potential CIRM scholars would be able to obtain appropriate experience. The reviewers noted that the applicant institution has a track record in the training of postdoctoral fellows and has successfully obtained NIH funding for this purpose. Reviewers commented that there is nothing in the proposal about plans for assessing or ensuring diversity among their selected trainees or for outreach to minority institutions. An outreach program involving two PI’s involving yearly talks at elementary, middle, and/or high schools is briefly discussed. The proposal states that this effort at community outreach will become more formal upon funding of the proposal, but details are not provided. Reviewers considered the applicant institution to be one with a developing and evolving stem cell program, but not one known currently as a top-ranked California institutions for stem cell expertise. The program includes individuals who are highly qualified and come from diverse scientific backgrounds and expertise. These individuals would seem to be quite capable of delivering a stem cell training program as described. It was not entirely clear to the reviewers the degree of commitment of the applicant institution to stem cell research. A letter from the Vice President for Academic Affairs supports this application but does not spell out the Institution’s support for stem cell research or indicate a commitment to space at the institution. While the proposal details all of the equipment needed, there was no mention of space dedicated to stem cell research, with the exception of 1500 square feet for non-federally sanctioned stem cell research lines. Overall, despite a strong Program Director, good courses and good research training opportunities, reviewers’ enthusiasm was diminished by uncertainties in important aspects of program leadership and administration, commitment of the applicant institution, and uncertainties about the commitment and relationships with affiliated institutions.

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