Research Training II
$3 032 100
Statement of Benefit to California:
This is an application to renew a Type I comprehensive training program in stem cell biology. Funding will support six graduate students, eight postdoctoral fellows and two clinical fellows for two years each. The training will consist of the required CIRM courses including courses on stem cell biology and the ethics of stem cell research. A major emphasis in this application is the opening of a new stem cell institute at the applicant institution, and the faculty that will be recruited for this institute (seven recruited, ten more to follow). The institution has formed a consortium with other institutions in the area, and faculty from this consortium will be involved in didactic teaching and mentoring. To increase diversity in their program, the institution plans to participate in CIRM’s “Bridges to Stem Cell Research” program with a number of institutions in southern California. The training program and coursework was considered appropriate. The program includes the required didactic courses, including a course on stem cell biology that will be taught by faculty from a number of institutions. It will be taught using videoconferencing, as this format has received favorable reviews in the past. Many reviewers were concerned about the core course being taught remotely, as they felt that this would reduce the type of student-faculty interactions that occur in a live lecture situation. Reviewers were also concerned that important core courses, such as developmental biology and a practical course in embryonic stem cell culturing, are optional. It was the reviewers’ opinion that these courses should be required in a program for stem cell biology. Trainees will also be able to attend many seminars on stem cells available at the host institution. One reviewer noted that the relatively loose structure of the program might give the impression that the program is simply a funding mechanism for pre- and postdoctoral fellows, but the structure also provides an element of nimbleness in responding to the needs of trainees at different levels. Reviewers noted that the quality of training on stem cells depends heavily on the faculty of the new stem cell center, who are still being recruited. Finally, one reviewer noted that the program was not monitoring its students’ progress very convincingly. Progress of the trainees will be monitored during their scientific presentations, which seems less stringent than other institutions have proposed. Also, postdoctoral clinical fellows appear to have an automatic two years in the program irrespective of progress. The leadership team for the program was considered excellent. The Program Director (PD) who launched the program in 2005 will continue in this position. The PD is a senior scientist with considerable experience and training of graduate students and post-doctorates. Although the PD is a developmental biologist who has only recently entered the stem cell field, the application lists three co-directors with extensive stem cell and clinical experience. In addition, the program has an executive committee with three members that represent the participating institutions. The leadership team has a strong track record in this and other mentoring efforts, and should be well suited for the successful continued oversight of the aims of this program. The quality of the proposed mentors in this application is in general outstanding, although a subset seems less productive given their publication track records. The strength of the program will rely heavily on the faculty in the new stem cell institute as well as some of the current faculty who have appropriate stem cell research credentials. Their strength in translational stem cell biology might be overstated as judged by the publications of the faculty they cite as being experts in stem cell research. Although this institution does not currently have a large program in stem cell research, there is a strong campus commitment to stem cells as demonstrated by tremendous capital investment in infrastructure and recruitment. The letter from the institution’s provost confirms the support that the institution will give to stem cell research, and this is a major strength of the application. Undoubtedly the greatest stem cell strength is the creation of the new institute and the faculty members that it has and will recruit. This will provide a home for stem cell research activities on a campus where there is already a diverse group of scientists who are either working directly or indirectly on stem cell research. One reviewer voiced a hope that the research rigor required of the non-clinical trainees would apply to the clinical residents, as the institution has considerable experiences in providing research training for medical residents. Overall, reviewers commented that this institution was in the building phase of its stem cell research program. Graduate training at this institution was considered strong, and currently supported by several NIH T32 grants as well as a previous CIRM Training Grant. A strong pool of graduate students enters through a combined program that gives them access to eight graduate programs. The CIRM program has supported 24 trainees, two of whom have completed PhDs and are now in post-doctoral fellowships in cancer stem cells. No note is made of other trainees and whether they have become independent investigators. It is difficult, therefore, to judge the success of the current CIRM program. There is no mention of the diversity of the current and past trainees. What is clear is that the institution is making a major contribution to stem cell research through the building of the new research center, as well as the recruitment of new faculty engaged in stem cell research. The program is extensively involved with other institutes in the area, collaborating with stem cell scientists and programs. The application states that increasing diversity is important to the institution and this program, but it is not clear how successful they are at achieving it. They propose, however, to form partnerships with a number of campuses where minority numbers are high by participating in CIRM’s “Bridges to Stem Cell Research” program, if these applications are funded. Overall, this training program was considered quite strong. The courses were appropriate, the program leadership was outstanding, and the quality of the faculty was strong and growing.