The mission of the Research Training Program in Stem Cell Biology is to train CIRM Scholars scientists at the predoctoral and postdoctoral levels in the fundamental biology of stem cells and strategies for translating this knowledge towards treatment of diseases. By developing effective scientists and leaders in the stem cell field, this training will enhance stem cell-based biomedical research efforts in academia and industry, and promote the development of novel therapies for previously intractable diseases. Our institution is in a particularly advantageous position to undertake this training because of our tradition of programs in which research efforts cross-fertilize with experimental medicine and clinical practice. As an institution with emerging stem cell research programs, we are proposing a Type III training program for two predoctoral and four postdoctoral CIRM Scholars. To prepare CIRM Scholars to be productive researchers in collaborative and disease-oriented research environments in academia or in industry, we propose a program of course work and independent research. The didactic curriculum will be administered under the auspices of the Graduate School of Biological Sciences, which offers a Ph.D. program building on strengths in fundamental biology and emphasizing basic and translational research into chronic diseases including cancer and diabetes. Courses in fundamental stem cell biology and in ethical issues in stem cell research, a hands-on practicum on working with stem and pluripotent cells, and a multi-campus course on stem cell research linking together area institutions, will be augmented with professional forums including a training grant-supported seminar series, a stem cell journal club and a dedicated session at the annual retreat. Research training will occur within a unique environment with long-standing interests in stem cell-related therapies and investigations into underlying fundamental mechanisms. These include therapeutic programs in hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, pancreatic islet cell transplantation, and cell-based eradication of brain tumor cells, along with research into leukemia development, cancer stem cells and tumorigenesis, islet cell-directed embryonic stem cell differentiation, and neural progenitor cell targeting of glioma cells. Trainees will be mentored by a cohort of dedicated faculty, and will receive support to present the results of their work at national and international stem cell meetings. All trainees will also be able to draw on the career development resources of the school including classes in scientific writing, strategic grant preparation, and effective delivery of oral presentations, along with career counseling services.
Stem cell-based therapies provide a new approach to treating intractable and chronic diseases. Realization of this potential will require training scientists to study the fundamental properties of stem cells along with strategies for translating experimental findings into clinical practice. Our proposal details assembly of research training program in stem cell biology whose goal will be to educate the most promising predoctoral and postdoctoral students in stem cell biology, and give them research training so that they can become independent investigators in academia or industry. Our hope is that exposing trainees to the unique aspects of institution will enable them to eventually develop novel stem cell-based approaches against diseases that have not been targeted by other therapeutic methods. Any progress towards reducing the impact of these diseases will be of immense benefit to the State of California and its citizens
This application is for a Type III specialty training program, and funding is requested for two predoctoral students and four postdoctoral trainees. The formal course work will include a fourteen-week course in stem cell biology, courses on ethical issues in stem cell research and translation to clinical medicine, a workshop in laboratory techniques for working with stem cells, and a video conference course in stem cell biology and medicine jointly offered with two partnering institutions in the area. Additionally, there will be a stem cell seminar series, a journal club, and a dedicated session during the institution’s annual retreat. One of the Associate Directors is in charge of the evaluation and mentoring for the trainees; this provides consistency and an unbiased assessment. The selection of graduate students will be after their first year of courses while two of the post doctoral trainees will be chosen from those already at the institution and the other two chosen from external recruits. Each of the selected trainees will be supported for a full 36 months so there would be only one entry point for trainees during the grant.
Reviewers commented that this is a well-conceived proposal with appropriate scope for training at the predoctoral and postdoctoral levels to prepare participants for careers in stem cell research. The two outstanding strengths of this program are the institution’s strong tradition of translation of basic science into the clinic and the extraordinary core facilities available to the community. The courses are appropriate and taught by qualified faculty, although the stem cell laboratory course is not currently up and running, and it is not clear what is the status of the other courses. In addition, a seminar series, journal club, and yearly symposium are a part of the training. Strength of this particular training program is the strong clinical component to stem cell research at the institution. The resources available for the trainees are outstanding, and trainee progress is evaluated and monitored appropriately.
Reviewers agreed that the leadership team seems strong. The program will be led by two co-Program Directors (PD) along with one Associate Program Director. One PD is an experienced researcher with multiple teaching and leadership roles in the graduate school; the second is an assistant professor with less mentoring experience. The Associate Director is also an Associate Dean for Student Development and brings experience in directing internship programs at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Program oversight is provided by a steering committee, which will meet at least quarterly with the leadership team to provide advice and carry out planning.
The caliber of the science at this institution is excellent. Thirty mentors are listed, with many of them serving on NIH or other study sections and almost all with NIH funding. Ten of these were recruited to the applicant institution since 2003. The majority of the mentors are experienced in training pre/postdoctoral researchers. A detailed description of the types of research under way is provided in the application. Based on publication and funding records, the faculty members range from very good to outstanding. There are quite a large number of assistant professors who can bring enthusiasm and energy to a program, and the oversight committees seem well positioned to monitor the mentorship activities of these less-experienced faculty members.
The graduate program that will host this CIRM Training Program has a fairly modest enrollment of about 15 students per year, but the pool is very good based on mean GRE and GPA scores, and students are applying from schools that include outstanding US and international universities. Although it is not clear what the qualifications of those captured are, the students graduate with a median time of 5.5 years with a high rate of publication and continuation in the biomedical or biotechnology fields. A new research building is being planned for 2010, and this building will house research laboratories and an instructional laboratory for the stem cell techniques course. Another strength of this application is the thoughtful description of how student interns from CIRM Bridges partners will be integrated into the activities of this training program.
The applicant institution has a strong history of stem cell research and for work at the interface between basic and clinical research. The institution has made extensive institutional support available to stem cell research over the last few years. This includes (or will include) salary support for the senior leadership of the training program, underwriting tuition for all predoctoral trainees, absorbing costs associated with career-development programs, paying for off-site training in advance stem cell techniques, guaranteeing stipends for predoctoral trainees in the last years of their dissertation work after their training grant support.
Overall, reviewers were very supportive of this application. They commented on the strength of translational science at this institution, and on specific elements of the training program. They also commented that the application responded to the RFA in a sincere way.