This application is to renew our CIRM type III program to train post-doctoral scientists. Our faculty direct a large stem cell research and teaching enterprise that comprises over 100 biologists, chemists, engineers and clinicians with extensive expertise in stem cell biology and in allied disciplines dedicated to stem cell-based therapies for cardiovascular, neurodegenerative, hematopoietic and metabolic disorders. Our current CIRM program curriculum included intensive lecture courses on Stem Cell Biology, and Ethics, Intellectual Property and Regulatory Affairs and a hands-on, intensive laboratory course required of all trainees. The program also funded instructors to provide specialized workshops in hESC techniques and our trainees attended local and statewide trainee meetings to augment interchange and education. In addition, the training program provided a research stipend to defray the costs of the trainees’ research and, in some cases, the presence of CIRM trainees established hESC biology in mentors’ laboratories. The proposed program will feature the following: • Train a steady state of 6 postdoctoral fellows/year, with PhD and/or MD degrees, admitted on a competitive basis. • Mandatory lecture and laboratory courses on Stem Cell Biology as well as Ethics, Intellectual Property and Regulatory Affairs. • New elective courses in translational fields of drug discovery, animal physiology and degenerative disease models. • Student/faculty journal clubs on stem cell biology. • Institutional commitment for the training program will continue by providing support for faculty mentors, instrumentation and laboratory space dedicated to hESC and hIPSC biology, in particular in the areas of hESC/hIPSC engineering, automated small molecule, siRNA and microRNA screening, and proteomics. • Research training emphasis will be on stem cell engineering, directed differentiation and drug discovery. With this renewal, there will be an increased emphasis on providing training in translational research involving pharmacology, physiology and animal disease models used to study stem cell-based regeneration. The program is designed to offer comprehensive training in stem cell research and allied disciplines required to translate basic discoveries to clinic, biotechnology and pharmaceutical settings. Our Faculty are dedicated to excellence in research and are committed to providing outstanding postdoctoral training.
Benefits will accrue to California through: 1. California patients will benefit from improved therapies. The CIRM training program will produce highly trained stem cell scientists that will expand the number of talented researchers working towards therapies for degenerative and other disorders. 2. Technology transfer to California institutions. Our institution, as well as [REDACTED], has seen and implemented a steady increase in technology transfer in the past decade. The training provided to our best postdoctoral fellows will increase the quality and also the quantity of stem cell research at our institution. The translational potential of stem cell research and the motivation of our scientists and administrators to translate the basic discoveries to biotech and pharmaceutical settings is likely to result in licensing of further technology to the corporate sector. This will have an impact on boosting the competitiveness of our state’s technology sector with the accompanying potential for creation of new jobs. 3. Enhanced ability of California institutions to recruit stem cell scientists. Already, we have seen an increase in the number of recruits, at all levels, as a result of CIRM funding. Training grant funding is likely to contribute to overall recruitment by the prospect of placing highly trained scientists in laboratories. Moreover, because of the translational nature of the research and resulting technology transfer to industry partners, the increased number of highly trained graduates should have a similar impact on our biotechnology and/or pharmaceutical companies.
The application for a Type III program comes from an institution that was a recipient of a CIRM Training Grant I award. As in the first funding period, the program has an established core curriculum for trainees and features participation of mentors from several other prominent local institutions. The focus of the training and the philosophy underlying the program development are its orientation around translational research. The goal of the program is to immerse trainees in knowledge and investigations of the role of stem cells in health and disease.
The training environment is outstanding. The trainees will have a large number of highly qualified mentors from which to choose, and mentors are distributed in institutions nearby the applicant organization. The quality of the training environment provided by these mentors and the general level of resources for the trainees was considered outstanding; these resources include a chemical screening center, a library production center, and a nanotechnology center. One reviewer noted that many of the mentors were assistant professors and that one was very junior, and suggested that pairing of the more junior mentors with senior mentors might improve the training of postdoctoral fellows. A real strength of the program design is a journal club linked thematically to two weekly lectures, which reviewers felt would promote student-centered learning.
The Program Director (PD) has an exceptionally strong funding record and is the director of several large research enterprises, causing some concern that the PD will not be able to devote sufficient time to management and oversight of the training program (with effort listed at 2%). Another concern about the leadership was the lack of description of the ad hoc committee used to select the fellows for the program. The steering committee, as described, included only a single member from an outside (participating) institution rather than having it balanced to represent the other institutions involved in the training program. The PD states that she/he will work with his institution to track the long-term progress of the trainees, but reviewers were disappointed that a systematic, quantitative approach for following trainees was not developed, and suggested that the PD consider a more sophisticated database approach for tracking. A related problem cited by reviewers was that likely papers from the first trainees were not reported, presumable because of the lack of systematic follow-up. Nonetheless, overall, reviewers felt that the PD and mentors were well suited to the proposed program and training goals. The strength of the program is reflected in the placement of 2 of the original 13 CIRM fellows in independent faculty positions.
The training environment is enriched by other training programs including a federally sponsored post-doctoral program in cancer biology and some postdoc programs housed in a major medical center nearby. The numbers of faculty at the host institution who participate in outreach activities to underrepresented minority communities and campuses was not stated, though the application notes some outreach to local state and community colleges. The diversity of the post-doctoral training group was also not addressed in the application. The institution is highly committed to extending the infrastructure and intellectual base for stem cell research, and reviewers noted integration of stem cell faculty into important related programs focused on neuroscience, aging, and various medical specialities.
Overall, the program provides an outstanding training environment both at the applicant institution and within the stem cell community in the surrounding institutions, and it is likely to attract very talented postdoctoral trainees. Reviewers felt that the course work was extensive but valuable, but were concerned that the program director would have insufficient time for leading the program. They suggested diversifying the advisory committee as a way to improve the capacity for leadership of the program. The combination of solid curriculum, myriad opportunities for seminars and symposia locally, and strong research mentors in a wide range of fields related to translational stem cell biology collectively led reviewers to consider the application an excellent one.