Research Training II
$2 257 012
Statement of Benefit to California:
This application proposes the continuation of a Type II training program with a training cohort of 6 postdoctoral and 4 predoctoral positions. The application has a particular and strong focus on systems approaches to stem cell biology. The program benefits from the leadership of a prominent biomedical engineering professor, and several associate directors from biomedical engineering and molecular, cell and developmental biology. Overall, the program impressed reviewers as one which could not be replicated at any other institution, affording trainees wonderful opportunities. The training environment and program design, given the chosen systems biology approaches, are excellent. Coursework for the trainees includes introduction to stem cell biology, ethics, and a techniques course with optional courses in cell biology and computational biology with 14 optional courses. The laboratory course curriculum suggests that the students will receive excellent practical training in basic methodology. The teamwork format of this course was considered a real plus. The director of the ethics course comes from the philosophy department and reviewers appreciated this contribution, and overall the curriculum was considered diverse, interesting, and well crafted. Because of the institution’s enormous strengths in computational biology and genomics, trainees have the option of gaining in-depth training in these areas. One reviewer felt that these opportunities, so important to the program, could be leveraged better by designing a curriculum that more firmly intertwined computational biology and laboratory stem cell biology, to cross-train more of the students. Students will be introduced to stem cell techniques at an intensive training program conducted by one of California’s premiere stem cell research institutions. The institution recently reorganized its graduate training program into an integrated Biomedical Science and Engineering program, which will help to bring students with diverse scientific interests into the training program. The interaction between engineering, bioinformatics, and biology students was felt to be a refreshing feature of the program. Though the facilitation of recruitment of students into the predoctoral program was clear in the application, the mechanisms for recruiting the best postdoctoral trainees to the program seemed not well developed. Further, little information was given on performance and success of postdoctoral trainees currently in the program, leading to more concern on the part of one reviewer that the postdoctoral program structure needs some attention. Similarly, in contrast to the careful construction of the training program, metrics for assessing the program’s success were felt to be less sophisticated and deserve attention, including external advisory feedback. The program has resulted in formation of an apparently active regional stem cell club. Further opportunities for trainees are organized journal clubs, quarterly institution-wide stem cell group meetings, and other retreats and conferences. Though the institution’s stem cell institute is relatively new, the core faculty is highly experienced, and the executive committee is strong. Diverse work in model developmental organism systems adds to the strong computational/mathematical background of many of the faculty. Leadership of the program was universally applauded, and reviewers felt that the director is exceptionally qualified. Associate directors include experienced professors and one assistant professor. Although faculty members largely entered stem cell biology from other fields, the students have large numbers of highly qualified mentors from which to choose. Recognized experts in genomics, chromatin regulation, RNA regulation, bioinformatics, computer science, and bioengineering all bring enormous strengths to the program. External advisors or business expertise were thought to be lacking on advisory committees. Though the recent history of the institution points to a major new commitment to stem cell biology in the context of its traditional strengths, reviewers were concerned about the lack of written institutional support letters. Overall, the proposed training program takes advantage of the institutional strengths, giving students the unique opportunity to learn stem cell biology with a systems framework, and potential for cross training in computational biology and other mathematically intensive areas. Some reservations about the program included the reliance on junior faculty mentors, and the lack of a sophisticated internal review process. Reviewers were enthusiastic about the details of the curriculum, the systems focus, leadership of the program, and growing institutional strengths in stem cell biology.