Our program’s primary objective is to train and prepare pre- and post-doctoral fellows to become excellent scientists and leaders in stem cell research that are able to integrate multiple approaches from different disciplines in this emerging field. A secondary goal is to recruit and educate a diverse work force in stem cell biology to ensure that under-represented minorities and women in California will participate fully in this segment of the biomedical enterprise. We are the largest academic and research institution serving the state’s [REDACTED]; as a designated a Hispanic Serving Institution, we have an excellent record of recruiting, training and graduating minority students and women. Our new medical school begins faculty recruitment in 2009; as the first new medical school in the nation in this century, we plan to integrate stem cell biology into the medical school curriculum. This Level II application requests funding for 6 pre-doctoral and 4 post-doctoral CIRM Scholars per year. Our program consists of intramural coursework and activities enriched by extramural partnerships with neighboring academic and biotech institutions. Training begins with three graduate core courses, required of all CIRM Scholars, in Stem Cell Biology and Disease, Stem Cell Biology-Technology and Applications, and Bioethics of Stem Cell Biology. Scholars can select other courses including a wet-lab in Human Embryonic Stem Cell Culture (also open to CIRM Bridges students), taught in our newly constructed, CIRM-funded Shared Stem Cell Core Facility, a course in Advanced Topics in Stem Cell Biology, and an upper division course in Human Embryology. CIRM Scholars will participate in joint lab meetings with members from all of our stem cell labs and in seminars given by invited speakers from other institutions. A special feature of our program is that it is designed to foster a high degree of interaction among life scientists and engineers. Faculty from the life sciences, chemistry and engineering will be teaching the required course in Stem Cell Biology-Technology and Applications. CIRM Scholars will have the opportunity to be embedded in both life science and engineering labs, training them at an early stage for future interdisciplinary collaborations. Thus, CIRM Scholars will be able to conduct research on a range of stem cell projects including basic studies on signal transduction, differentiation, regeneration and disease to problems in translation including bulk production of cells, biosensors, and monitoring of environmental toxicants. Our program is enhanced by extramural opportunities including 3 month-long internships at local biotech companies and presentations at national and international stem cell meetings. With participating faculty from 12 graduate programs in four colleges at our institution, we have formed a well-integrated, interdisciplinary group of stem cell researchers, many of whom have won awards for outstanding research and teaching.
Statement of Benefit to California:
The passage of Proposition 71 by the citizens of California clearly demonstrated the importance of stem cell research to our state. In order to develop stem cell-based therapies, it is essential to train a new workforce of scientists to address basic and translational questions regarding stem cell biology. Our proposed training program will benefit the people and the state of California by providing high-quality scientific and ethical training in stem-cell research to PhD graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who upon completing our program as CIRM Scholars will be well prepared to develop careers in this rapidly emerging field. Our CIRM Scholars will be trained in an integrated program that bridges the life sciences and engineering and will be especially well suited to participate in interdisciplinary projects and contribute to the leadership and workforce in the field of stem cell biology and its translation to stem cell-based therapies. Because CIRM Scholars in our program will be exposed to basic science, technology, and applications of stem cell biology, our trainees will be highly qualified to address basic research questions and transform such information into clinical applications that will aid in the treatment of disease. Training in our program will prepare CIRM Scholars to fill diverse positions in academia, industry and government in the state of California. Our university, which is located in one of the most ethnically diverse and fastest growing regions of California, has a history of making strong contributions to our local citizens by training under represented minorities and women. One goal of our CIRM training program is to continue this tradition, and through courses, research, and enrichment activities, we will be able to open career opportunities for minorities and women in this important emerging area of the biomedical enterprise. Our program also offers outreach activities to other campuses, biotech companies, and local community groups that will provide additional value to the citizens at all levels in our area. In addition, by interfacing our program with our new medical school that will begin recruiting faculty in 2009, we will be in a position to bring unique enrichment and training opportunities to our CIRM Scholars and facilitate development of projects dealing with stem cell-based therapies a within the newest medical school in California.
This application proposes a Type II training program that would offer 6 predoctoral and 4 postdoctoral slots per year. All trainees are expected to take the required courses in Stem Cell Biology and Disease and Bioethics of Stem Cell Biology, in addition to other courses in stem cell biology-- Technology and Applications, Seminars in Stem Cell Biology, and a joint lab meeting in Stem Cell Biology. Trainees can choose to take optional courses including a one-week training course in human embryonic stem cells in the CIRM Shared Facility, and a human embryology course. An annual workshop with a neighboring institution that includes speakers and poster sessions is also part of the training program. The training also includes a 3-month internship at a local biotechnology company.
The proposed training program was regarded as a good opportunity for trainees to engage in high quality research relevant to stem cell biology. The proposed coursework appears reasonable, and the instructors are highly regarded as educators especially at the undergraduate level. However, the reviewers felt that the description of course work was minimal and lacking detail. Reviewers were interested in better understanding how the applicants would integrate training with existing teaching programs and this was not adequately addressed. A reviewer specifically noted that the curriculum does not leverage the potential for interdisciplinary training or interactions. The reviewer considered the absence of an integrated curriculum that includes designed opportunities to bring together diverse disciplines a serious flaw in the proposal. The size of the applicant pool of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who would be eligible for this program was also not made clear to reviewers.
The Program Director was noted to have a good record of training students and teaching. The director’s research, education, and administrative experience make him/her well qualified to direct the proposed program. The director’s record of external funding is not particularly strong, however, raising some concerns about sustainability of the planned programmatic efforts. The program also proposes an Associate Director who is a recently hired stem cell biologist. The advisory committee consists of well-qualified scientists who are participants in the program. Thus, the committee composition does not afford the necessary external, unbiased voice that would be optimal in an advisory committee to provide feedback on the program.
The faculty mentors have solid records of training undergraduate and graduate students, as well as postdoctoral fellows. They have uniformly excellent publication records, as well as good track records in obtaining external funding to support their research programs. There are 12 mentors already involved in stem cell research with a range of expertise from oogenesis to small organic molecules to toxicology to bioengineering of scaffolds. Two of these are from neighboring institutions. An additional 9 mentors are described as entering stem cell research. However, reviewers noted that most of the mentors are engaged in research that is peripherally related to stem cell research and most appear to be new to the discipline. Therefore, reviewers felt that the program offered relatively little breadth or depth in stem cell research.
Reviewers also felt that there are relatively few examples of successful training programs currently at the applicant institution that target predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees, as many are geared to undergraduate students. A program in chemical genomics is one example provided in the proposal narrative that has been quite successful in developing interdisciplinary courses and research projects among the participants. Reviewers highlighted that the institution serves a large Hispanic population, and thus the potential for increasing access to stem cell biology to a diverse population is strong. Reviewers would have liked to see more detailed data on the demography of the participants in any of the graduate programs, but were confident that the institution would be successful in recruiting under-represented graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to this program. The institution appears committed to fostering stem cell research on their campus. In addition to the new stem cell core facility, two hires in stem cell biology were recently made and there is some indication that hiring for a new medical school may include a significant number of stem cell researchers.
Overall, the proposed program has great potential to increase the participation of under-represented minority students, particularly Hispanic students, in stem cell research. The current proposal represents an adequate training plan, but is limited by the lack of depth and breadth in stem cell biology. In addition, the potential for interdisciplinary training is not well developed.