This proposal is designed to recruit and train 5 undergraduate and 5 master’s degree students per year in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. Through partnerships with local community colleges, newly designed and dedicated courses at the home campus and internships at two established, CIRM-funded centers of stem cell research, this program will create a unique (and perhaps the only) opportunity for providing such training in an area that covers 20% of the state of California. Graduates will be mentored, evaluated and tracked by a Stem Cell Internship Advisory Committee, and are expected to: 1 Seek entry level employment in the public or private sector engaged in stem cell and related therapy development and research. 2 Enter a PhD program to pursue a career in stem cell research. 3 Contribute as K-12 science teachers throughout California and promote a well-grounded understanding of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. The program will achieve these goals by first engaging the local community colleges in our service area to help identify individuals with diverse backgrounds interested in pursuing training in stem cell laboratory techniques. In partnership with these local community colleges, we will extend stem cell training to undergraduates in an area covering a fifth of the state. Courses will be developed to stimulate broad student interest and strengthen education in stem cell and related issues. Within the Department of Biological Sciences at [REDACTED], courses will be developed for a new Option in Cell and Molecular Biology. This option covers the core curriculum for cell and molecular biology and basic laboratory experience necessary to prepare our undergraduate majors for a year-long internship at one of our 2 host partners. The graduate component will begin with accelerated and focused recruitment of qualified graduate students interested in stem cell biology. Both undergraduates and graduates selected for this program will begin the internship phase with a week-long course in human embryonic stem cell techniques taught at the [REDACTED], one of our host partners. Each intern will undergo 12 months of full-time training in a stem cell laboratory at the [REDACTED] or [REDACTED], our second host partner. Other elements in the program include a distinguished speaker seminar series in stem cell biology; supplementary training in cell culture methods and image analysis, and attendance at local, state, and national meetings in cell biology. These meetings will allow trainees to present their data and make contacts essential for the next phase of their careers. Mentoring and evaluation of interns will be administered by a Stem Cell Internship Advisory Committee composed of faculty in Cell and Molecular Biology and a member from each partnering institution. A key function of the advisory committee will be job placement and tracking of trainees to evaluate the program’s long-term success.
Statement of Benefit to California:
The Bridges program described here benefits the state of California and its citizens by training skilled stem cell technicians for an emerging “for profit” biotechnology sector; adding to the number of early career independent academic investigators interested in pursuing research in stem cell biology; strengthening cellular and molecular biology programs for majors, graduate students and the non-major student population. This bridges program in stem cell biology is embedded with all these benefits and compounds them by providing stem biology training to a large, under-served, area of California. The [REDACTED] constitutes almost 20% of the states landed area. It is a sparsely populated agricultural region containing two large communities, and several smaller population centers totaling just under a million people. The nearest University of California campus is 100 miles way. The essential role of the community colleges and the [REDACTED] serving this area can not be overstated. These diverse and effective institutions provide virtually all of the post secondary education in this region. They also provide most of the work force training and are the major conduit to postgraduate programs in California’s professional schools and prestigious research institutions.
The proposal describes a program to train 5 undergraduate and 5 graduate students in a 12-month internship program under the sponsorship of a university - research institute partnership. The course curriculum will include a new stem cell module, and addition of cell culture and imaging techniques to the current curriculum. Interns will take a 1 weeklong stem cell techniques course at the host university institution prior to embarking on the internship. Interns will also conduct 1 semester of independent study.
The reviewers appreciated the premise and goals of the proposal but were discouraged by the poorly described training plan. The goal of integrating stem cell biology into a curriculum with a potential for educational enhancement was appreciated, but the Program Director (PD) was unable to convince reviewers that the integration and curriculum were sufficiently developed. The proposal lacked details on the topics that are to be provided in the new stem cell biology module and how the module will integrate and enhance the current academic program. It was also unclear if the proposed one-semester independent study will be a laboratory-based experience or more of a literature review. The proposal was also criticized for the absence of a detailed plan for evaluation of the interns during the course of the study, and lack of details on student mentoring.
The letter of institutional commitment from one host institution was considered by the reviewers to be generic and lacked specifics, while noting that the letter from the partner institution was strong and transmitted full committed to the program. Because of lack of details of the training program from the primary institution, it was difficult for reviewers to evaluate whether the host institutions have requisite experience or commitment to the training program.
The program administrator was considered adequately qualified and experienced to oversee the program. However, the advisory committee does not seem to include any individuals who could provide an independent, unbiased assessment of the program and progress of the participants.
Overall, because much necessary programmatic detail was lacking, the proposal left reviewers with significant doubts that the proposed training program, as described, would achieve its goals.