Stem cells are the primitive cells that give rise to the different tissue types in the body. In a way, stem cells are the universal cells from which all cells are derived. Their unlimited proliferation and differentiation potential raises the prospect that stem cells could be used as therapeutic tools offering hope for millions who suffer from debilitating diseases and conditions for which there are limited or no treatments including: neurological disease, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Furthermore, stem cells may serve as diagnostic tools, cancer perhaps being one of the most promising areas. But before these potential applications become a reality, scientists need to be educated and trained so to have a better understanding of the mechanisms by which human embryonic stem cells renew themselves indefinitely as well as the cellular and molecular mechanisms that control their differentiation to the different type of cells and tissues of the human body. This Training program is designed to develop and enhance research opportunities for postdoctoral fellows training for careers in the field of human stem cell biology. Our goals are to develop a curriculum of study and research experiences necessary to provide high quality research training and to ensure a continuing supply of well-trained scientists prepared to conduct cutting-edge health-related research in human embryonic stem cell biology. Training in research has been a key activity of the applicant institute since its inception, reflected in the fact that many of the more than 2,000 scientists trained at the Institute have gone on to positions of leadership in other prominent research centers worldwide, including five Nobel prizes. This proposal aims to continue this record of achievement by capitalizing on the multi-disciplinary range of conceptual and methodological expertise present at the applicant institute in the stem cell biomedical field.
Neurological and cardiovascular disorders, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis strike no less than 10 million Californians each year, causing an incalculable personal toll and an annual economic cost of billions of dollars in medical expenses and lost productivity. Stem cells are the primitive cells that give rise to the different tissue types in the body. In a way, stem cells are the universal cells from which all cells are derived. Their unlimited proliferation and differentiation potential raises the prospect that stem cells could be used as therapeutic tools offering hope for millions of Californians who suffer from debilitating diseases and conditions for which there are limited or no treatments. But before these potential applications become a reality, scientists need to be educated and trained so to have a better understanding of the mechanisms by which human embryonic stem cells renew themselves indefinitely as well as the cellular and molecular mechanisms that control their differentiation to the different type of cells and tissues of the human body. In this proposal we aim to provide a high quality research training and to ensure a continuing supply of well-trained scientists prepared to conduct cutting-edge health-related research in human embryonic stem cell biology. A key benefit derived from this Training grant proposal is the training of new scientists to serve as educators and researchers for the future, many in the burgeoning area of stem cell biology for which the State of California has emerged as a world's leader. Furthermore, and as a result of their research activities, specific tools and methods for reducing medical costs and increasing the quality of life and level of productivity of afflicted Californians might be generated. Finally, the discoveries derived from innovative and multidisciplinary research on hES cells by the trained scientists are likely to lead to important new areas of intellectual property that are essential for creating high quality jobs in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries in California.
The application for a Type III training program comes from an institution with a CIRM Training Grant I program in place, and the current application is little changed from the first. The institution has a long track-record of attracting top-flight trainees and is proposing to continue the CIRM program with 6 postdoctoral positions. During the previous funding period, all 6 trainee positions were filled. The structure of the program is competitive in that funding to the post-docs is offered for one year, with renewal based on a competition. Reviewers commented that this format for the program seemed a little tough on the trainees but that the institution could afford to push their trainees hard since the overall quality of trainees is high. Despite the strengths of the program, only a single publication produced by trainees supported by Training Grant I was reported to CIRM.
The program design takes advantage not only of the strengths of the institution, but also of the region. Many of the scientists at the research institution are doing work related to stem cell biology or regenerative medicine. The philosophical goal of the program is to take a broad multidisciplinary approach to training, including an in-depth curriculum and research training (with a hands-on practical course on culture and manipulation of hESC), and translating the knowledge to development of new therapies for diseases, particularly degenerative diseases. The hands-on introductory core stem cell course is only a week in length but covers a huge amount of material. Biology, ethical, legal and social issues are all integrated into the curriculum. An enormous range of optional seminars and symposia are available to the trainees because of the location of the institution in a center of stem cell research activities. Trainees are expected to participate in a biannual, day-long retreat and in a local regenerative medicine meeting. Instructors in the coursework are well qualified. Success of the prior CIRM training program is already apparent in that 4 of the 10 original trainees have landed faculty positions.
The program director is a highly experienced scientist with a long track record of successful training of post-doctoral fellows. The executive committee of the program is made up of three senior scientists with excellent credentials. Reviewers were concerned that, despite the clear scientific strengths of the leadership, the application did not contain a good plan for increasing diversity of the trainees. For example, it was unclear how and where the positions are advertised. One reviewer was also concerned that only 4 of the 10 trainees had biosketches in the application, which only raised questions about why these 4 were chosen to be featured. Diversity in the training faculty could potentially be strengthened by including more assistant professors. The advisory committees contain no outside members from other institutions. The institutional support to stem cell research was considered excellent, with new hires planned and much space devoted to stem cell biology.
Overall the institution, though relatively small, has enormous strengths in stem cell research, outstanding senior mentors, and an institutional commitment to post-doctoral training that is internationally recognized. The trainees at the institution further benefit by the location in a region with many stem cell research centers. The reviewers felt certain that very talented post-docs would be attracted to the program, and they encouraged the program leadership to design mechanisms to attract a diverse group of post-doctoral trainees.