We propose to sponsor a CIRM Research Training Program in stem cell and regenerative medicine, which will provide six postdoctoral Ph.D. or M.D. (Type III) trainees per year with state-of-the-art stem cell-related research experience and coursework in a rich scientific environment. The goal is to prepare trainees for productive, independent research careers in stem cell and regenerative medicine, with an emphasis on training individuals from scientifically and demographically diverse backgrounds. Consistent with our mission, the program will focus on stem cells in aging and age-related disease, with particular concentration in neurodegenerative disorders. Required courses will be offered in Stem Cell Biology; Neurodegenerative Disorders; Legal, Ethical and Social Issues in Stem Cell Research; and Career Development. Trainees will also be invited to participate in other courses and related activities at the Institute, including weekly laboratory meetings, a weekly journal club in stem cell and regenerative medicine, a special lecture series titled Seminars in Stem Cell Biology, professional development workshops, and a Summer Scholars Program for high school and college students, whom trainees will participate in mentoring. Research opportunities will be available in a broad range of disciplines related to the goals of the CIRM, including human embryonic stem cell biology, adult neurogenesis, neurodegenerative disease (stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), cancer, biology of aging, programmed cell death, DNA damage and repair, model organisms (yeast, C. elegans, Drosophila), mitochondrial physiology, epigenetics, and stem cell research methodology (imaging, genomics, proteomics, knockout/transgenics, drug screening). Trainees will have access to a variety of multidisciplinary activities, including the Program in Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, CIRM Shared Research Laboratory and Stem Cell Techniques Training Course, CIRM Major Facility for stem cell research, [REDACTED] AAALAC-accredited vivarium, and research cores devoted to hESC cukture, hESC characterization, FACS, morphology/imaging, genomics, epigenetics, chemistry/proteomics, drug screening, and knockouts/transgenics.
The 2000 US Census showed that 10.6% of Californians were aged 65 or older and 1.3% were 85 or older. According to a 2003 special report from the California Policy Research Center on “The Growth and Aging of California’s Population”, the proportion of Californians aged 65 or older will increase to 20.5% over the next 50 years, and 4% will be 85 or older. As noted in the California Health and Human Services Agency’s 2003 Strategic Plan for an Aging California Population, many of these individuals can be expected to suffer from chronic diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, so that a key element in preparing for the aging of California will be “developing new treatment modalities and medications that slow disease progression, improve treatment of symptoms, and/or reverse the course of disease”. To this end, we propose a postdoctoral training program focused on the role of stem cells in the pathogenesis and potential treatment of aging and age-related disorders. Research opportunities will be available in a broad range of disciplines related to the goals of CIRM, including human embryonic stem cell biology, adult neurogenesis, neurodegenerative disease (stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), cancer, biology of aging, programmed cell death, DNA damage and repair, model organisms (yeast, C. elegans, Drosophila), mitochondrial physiology, epigenetics, and stem cell research methodology (imaging, genomics, proteomics, knockout/transgenics, drug screening). The proposed training program will benefit the state of California and its citizens by preparing the next generation of stem cell researchers, by improving current understanding of stem cell biology in relation to human disease, and by pointing the way toward new cell-based treatments.
This application proposes a Type III training program that will support six postdoctoral trainees per year in stem cell research and regenerative medicine. The focus of the program is stem cells in aging and age-related disease, with particular concentration in neurodegenerative disorders. The program will offer the required Stem Cell Biology and Legal, Ethical and Social Issues in Stem Cell Research courses and additional courses in Neurodegenerative Disorders and Career Development. The program will include journal clubs, lecture series, and professional development workshops plus the opportunity to mentor high school and college students.
Reviewers noted that the quality of the course instructors and training environment was excellent and likely to have a high impact. The Stem Cell Biology course is a new topics course offered by two established stem cell biologists. The partnership of an academic scientist and an industry leader in delivering this course is a significant strength. The Program Director (PD) pairs up with a trained physician and attorney to teach Legal, Ethical and Social Issues in Stem Cell Research. Additionally, all trainees will take a laboratory course in a CIRM-funded stem cell training lab. Overall the curriculum is considered appropriate for a postdoctoral training program. There is an expectation in the proposed program that each trainee will have a manuscript ready for submission by 12 months and by 24 months should have sought additional funding through fellowship or grant mechanisms. Reviewers commented that this might be an unrealistic goal for those entering the stem cell field from other disciplines, such as engineering, or for MDs who have had little research training.
The Program Director and Associate Director are considered well qualified to oversee the major aims of this proposal. In addition, the overall plan for scientific and administrative oversight was noted to show a considered and well-organized approach.
Reviewers felt that the proposed training program is narrower compared to that of other applicants but recognized that Type III programs are meant to have a more focused scope. Reviewers also noted that the list of available mentors was limited and only two or three would actually be considered stem cell biologists. This is balanced however by excellent researchers in the field of developmental biology where major advances in stem cell research are likely to occur in the near-term. The training record among the faculty was thought to be strong. The institution primarily trains postdoctoral fellows, who seem to be quite productive and move on to good-quality faculty positions. The applicant institution has trained 134 postdoctoral fellows since 1999 and currently has 41 fellows in training, so there seems to be an adequately sized pool from which to draw. These fellows have published 37 papers in peer-reviewed journals within the last year, which is impressive, but a more extensive documentation of training outcomes would have improved the application. How trainees will be recruited into the program was also not discussed.
The overall strength of research at the applicant institution was found to be less robust than that of others in California. This was attributed in part to the relative age of the institution, which was relatively recently established and thus does not have the lengthy track record of other institutions. Nevertheless, reviewers felt that the focus of the proposed program would be attractive to trainees and would provide a suitable training environment.