The Stem Cell Training Program includes: experienced, well-funded mentors; essential techniques, methodologies, and facilities relevant to basic, translational, and clinical training in stem cell research; established graduate and training programs that provide the spectrum of training experiences; a clinical enterprise that includes a medical school, teaching hospital, and exceptional infrastructure including a CIRM Shared Research Facility and CIRM Stem Cell Institute; core facilities that provide essential equipment and expertise in stem cell biology and related areas such as animal models, bioengineering, genomics, and imaging; and a clinical program to ensure the translation of bench research to new therapies for human diseases. The program also includes a strong, collaborative framework in which to mentor and cultivate students and young investigators using a team approach. The overarching objective is to provide chosen scholars an integrated experience with state-of-the-art multidisciplinary team training to ensure they become productive, critical thinking, highly trained, and well-rounded collaborative scientists with research careers in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. This will be accomplished through integration of established campus opportunities and partnering with other related programs and institutions. Faculty from many schools and colleges provide a collaborative structure that has been successful in the current and other funded training programs. Success with the current stem cell training program justifies support for 16 trainees (6 predoctoral, 6 postdoctoral, 4 clinical fellows). Formal training will be provided through mentored research, a didactic curriculum, existing courses in graduate education, established courses that focus on the ethical, legal, and social implications of stem cell research, stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, and a weekly journal club, monthly seminar series with speakers from around the nation, an annual symposium, and an annual training program retreat. The curriculum is designed to bring all scholars and their mentoring teams together throughout the course of the training. The mentors are responsible for selecting and mentoring candidates, evaluating trainee progress, and assisting trainees with career development. The quality of the mentor is a major focus when the selection committee chooses trainees. The leadership of the program spans basic, translational, and clinical research. An Internal Advisory Committee includes the leadership team and representatives from various schools and colleges to oversee the formal process for scholar selection, and expectations for trainees and mentors. Program effectiveness is evaluated through an established educational evaluation program.
The CIRM Stem Cell Training Program will provide significant benefit to the State of California and its citizens in the following ways: • Train diverse scholars to be the next generation of regenerative biomedical science and medicine leaders, advancing basic and clinical translational science as well as mentoring another generation of scholars. • Provide unique shared resources that are used by all stem cell/regenerative medicine scientists and clinicians in California. • Develop team-oriented investigators who will facilitate intra-institutional and inter-institutional research as well as reaching out to industry partners to facilitate and implement new therapies for a host of human diseases. • Educate our community partners about stem cell research including the science as well as the ethical, legal, and social implications of regenerative medicine and stem cell research.
This application is to renew a Type I CIRM comprehensive training program in stem cell biology. Funding will support six predoctoral students, six postdoctoral fellows and four clinical trainees. The training will include of a group of core courses (ethics, comprehensive stem cell biology and lab), a weekly stem cell journal club, monthly stem cell seminar series with outside speakers, an annual retreat and a course in leadership. A major emphasis of this application is a focus on translation of research to candidate therapies for clinical testing, for which the program will partner with faculty from other colleges and schools across the campus and with other institutions. Students will meet weekly with their mentors and quarterly with their mentoring team, which includes other mentors in the focus area, a member of the leadership team, and a junior mentor who has already graduated from the training program. There is also a long-term tracking plan in place in which Scholars’ careers will be followed up to 5 years after completion of the program. Over the past two years of the CIRM training program, CIRM Scholars have presented 34 presentations at national and international meetings and 17 manuscripts have been submitted, in press, or published, although only one publication was disclosed in the annual progress report. For the first two years of the first Training Grant award, the applicant institution filled only one clinical trainee slot in the second year.
Reviewers rated the overall quality of the training program as excellent. The applicant institution’s focus on translation of research to clinical testing of therapies for disease is well articulated. Reviewers commented that the presence of several translational centers on campus, the partnering with other institutions, and close involvement of the medical and veterinary schools make this orientation towards therapy development effective. Given this strength, reviewers were concerned to discover that the institution had failed to fill available clinical trainee slots in the first training program. Other attractive features are the composition of the mentoring team for each Scholar, and the clear evaluation process for students’ progress over five years.
The program leadership is highly qualified. The current Program Director, who will continue in this role, is also the director of the institution’s clinical and translational science center. The two Associate Directors have strong basic and translational research experience and are very well suited to help run the program. There is a well- structured organization, and the program has both an Internal Advisory Board and an external board that consists of world-class investigators from outside California.
There are around 40 faculty mentors that can be accessed by students through this program. Mentors are excellent and they will be able to successfully train students at all levels of the program. Most of the mentors have NIH or CIRM funding and a number have served on NIH study sections/review panels. Eleven of the assistant professors and two professors have been recruited to the program in the past five years. One of the partner institutions will provide access to special technologies, in particular molecular imaging, which will add breadth to the program.
Many of the existing graduate programs at this institution are interdisciplinary. The application states that the institution currently trains the largest number of biological science PhD’s in the nation, indicating that the pool of applicants is large. There are a number of other training grants in place in all the separate schools and the process in place has been successful at recruiting students to these programs. As would be expected at such a large institution, there are a number of programs recruiting and supporting underrepresented minorities and women. In the past grant period, 50% of the Trainees have been women and 3 were underrepresented minorities.
Reviewers commented that the applicant institution has a strong stem cell program. The institution has managed to attract substantial CIRM funding, and has provided matching funds and infrastructure for a translational hESC Shared Research Facility and a CIRM Stem Cell Institute that are being built. The Department of Medicine has committed $100,000 as matching funds for this stem cell Training Program. Four high level administrators including the Vice Chancellor for Research provided letters of support. The letter from the Vice Chancellor was very strong and noted that the CIRM training grant will be placed under the clinical and translational science center.
Overall, this was considered a strong application with a very unique focus on translational science.