This CIRM Scholars Training Program seeks continued funding of a highly successful Type II (Intermediate training) program that is currently funded for postdoctoral and clinical scholars. The host institution conducts basic research on three of the most important medical problems of modern times: cardiovascular disease, AIDS, and neurodegenerative disorders. Each of these research areas addresses promising targets for regenerative medicine. The host institution is located in a new 200,000 sq. ft. facility, including CIRM-funded laboratory space constructed without federal funding. Its location—[REDACTED] —provides an ideal environment for collaboration between scientists at the host institution, neighboring [REDACTED] laboratories, and other research institutions. The host institution is an independent research institute affiliated with [REDACTED], and we combine some of our educational activities with the robust training programs in stem cell biology at [REDACTED], thus facilitating synergy and eliminating duplication. The host institution offers a unique training for CIRM scholars, providing a commitment to educating the next generation of biomedical scientists, highly interactive research groups, and substantial individual feedback from experienced mentors. Nearly two-thirds of the 23 laboratories at the host institution are engaged in some aspect of stem cell research. The host institution is one of the top ranked recipients of CIRM funding and the CIRM scholars program is the centerpiece of all our stem cell research efforts. More than 350 fellows have trained at the host institution. In a national survey by [REDACTED], the host institution has been rated in the top 10 institutions for postdoctoral scientists to work in the U.S. for the past 3 years (over 100 universities/institutions were ranked). Continued funding of this CIRM Scholars Training Program will allow us to enhance our research program to help meet the goals of regenerative medicine, while at the same time enhancing the training of young scientists.
Contribution to the California Economy: A major goal of regenerative medicine is to repair damaged tissue. Our CIRM scholars have research programs that focus on developing new methods to differentiate human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) into specific cell types for regeneration of diseased tissues. Our program could benefit the California economy by training highly skilled scientists who will take leading positions in California’s research institutions and the biotechnology industry. These scientists will also create technology that will be the basis of creating jobs in the biomedical industry. For instance, new stem cell lines could be valuable for biotechnology companies and researchers who are screening for drug compounds for regenerative medicine. Furthermore, our CIRM scholars are working closely with California companies to develop new equipment and analysis software that could be the basis for new product lines or new businesses. As new regenerative therapies come to fruition, we anticipate that California medical centers will be leading the way. Ultimately, the most important contribution of our CIRM scholars may be to improve the health of Californians. Diseases that are the target of regenerative medicine are major causes of mortality and morbidity, resulting in billions of dollars in healthcare costs and lost days at work. As we continue our efforts in medical research, we hope to one day unlock the secrets of tissue development and repair. This knowledge will help medical researchers develop beneficial therapies beyond what is currently available and potentially improve the quality of life and life expectancy of patients who suffer from disease.
This is a proposal to continue a Type II training program for both postdoctoral and clinical fellows. Trainees will participate in basic research programs in regenerative medicine in cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease and HIV disease. Training for all fellows will involve several courses including the culture of human embryonic stem cells (hESC), legal/ethical aspects of working with hESC, and grant writing. In addition to courses taught at the institution, CIRM scholars will also have the opportunity to take required and elective courses for CIRM scholars at local and regional institutions (strong letters of support were provided by each institution). There will be further opportunities for collaboration and interaction with CIRM scholars at these institutions including joint retreats and workshops. CIRM Scholars also benefit from the institution’s dedicated postdoctoral program coordinator and its formal mentoring program.
Reviewers were uniformly agreed that this was an outstanding application based on the outstanding quality of the training program and the training opportunities in stem cell research, the outstanding mentoring program, and the quality of the program leadership and administration. The majority of laboratories at this institution are engaged in stem cell research, and each has an excellent track record of productivity providing quality training opportunities for scholars. Other than their terminal degrees, the training of clinical and PhD fellows are similar. The reviewers considered the mixture of PhDs and MDs as CIRM scholars to be a strength and one which could lead to translational applications of the stem cell research. They noted the institution’s experience in training fellows and cited its national reputation as a great place to do postdoctoral work.
The Program Director (PD) and Associate PD have outstanding scientific and administrative qualifications to run this program). They and two other persons, also highly qualified comprise the Executive Committee for the CIRM Scholars program. The Executive Committee meets quarterly to assess program progress and yearly as part of the admissions committee. Reviewers particularly commented that a very nice addition to the internal assessment of the program is the inclusion of the CIRM Scholars program in the annual review of the institution’s programs by a scientific advisory board composed of national and international experts from outside the institution. Reviewers considered the applicant institution to have an excellent selection process in which applicants for CIRM scholars are required to provide a statement of purpose in addition to letters of recommendation/CV/publications. The applicant institution states that at every application cycle, they always have to turn away students that are very highly qualified.
Reviewers noted that the majority of laboratories at the applicant institution work in some aspect of stem cell research and that a number of these laboratories are some of the best in the world. They noted that the institution has been successful at recruiting new stem cell faculty members. They found the proposed mentors to be outstanding and well qualified to ensure that the trainees have the best guidance in their studies and activities. Reviewers found the mentoring program to be outstanding; one reviewer considered it the best s/he had “ever seen on paper”. The mentoring program includes training in all aspects necessary for completing a successful postdoctoral fellowship, grant writing, career development and quarterly one-half day sessions run by an organizational psychologist. There is a formal program at the institution that promotes gender and diversity issues. Reviewers noted that the institution is actively engaged in collaborative training and outreach activities with other institutions. As noted above, there is robust collaboration with researchers at other local and regional institutions that benefits CIRM scholars. In addition, the applicant institution has an established extensive outreach program with a local science museum and with a community college to promote public understanding of and training in stem cells, respectively. The reviewers considered these outstanding community outreach programs.
The institution is fully dedicated to stem cell research and the majority of its laboratories are engaged in some aspect of stem cell research. To date it has received a number of CIRM grants, as well as national and international funding sources for its investigators. Stem cell research at the institution is expanding with the addition of new stem cell researchers to the faculty.
Overall, the reviewers considered this program to be highly meritorious.