he goal of this Bridges to Stem Cell Research program is to produce students that are capable of carrying out independent research projects and can easily integrate into existing stem cell research groups. The proposed program will train 30 undergraduate students in 3 cohorts over 3 years. Selected students will participate in a rigorous curriculum at the home institution that will provide both the conceptual basis for understanding stem cells and a working knowledge of techniques in stem cell research. An established stem cell laboratory course at the home institution will provide students with 16 weeks of hands-on technical experience with stem cells. Students will also complete 6 months of independent research on a stem cell-related project in one of four research laboratories at the home institution prior to their internship at a host institution. Students will become acquainted with the ongoing research in many stem cell laboratories at the host institutions through discussions of scientific articles published from these labs. The combination of classroom work and 6 months of research experience at the home institution will facilitate rapid assimilation of the intern into ongoing projects at the host institution. These students will also take an advanced Stem Cell Techniques course at their host institution that will augment their training with advanced-level stem cell techniques. The interns will engage in full-time research for 7 months in one of the stem cell research labs at one of four host institutions. Our collaborators, three CIRM-funded university research centers and a hospital with an established stem cell research program, will involve students in independent research projects with human embryonic stem cells. The internship mentors will provide students with additional project-specific technical skills as well as the conceptual underpinnings necessary to solve problems in a particular stem cell research area. Throughout the program, students will hone their scientific communication skills as well as their technical skills to make them valued researchers in any stem cell project. The proposed program will indirectly contribute to support of stem cell research by outreach to a broader audience. In year 2, a module on stem cell research and impacts on regenerative medicine will be integrated into a large, non-major’s introductory biology course. In year 3, an upper division, non-major’s, online, biology course, “Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine” will be developed to provide students with an in-depth examination of the science underlying stem cell research, its translation into regenerative medicine, and the ethical and social impacts of these activities. An annual Stem Cell Symposium highlighting research at the host institutions and accomplishments of the interns will be open to the local community to further promote public awareness of stem cell research.
The citizens of the state of California have taken an unprecedented step in initiating public support for the advancement of stem cell research. The resources made available through CIRM are creating a boom in stem cell research and positioning various institutions and companies within the state of California to become world leaders in regenerative medicine. However, this acceleration in stem cell research activities has resulted in recent college graduates being unprepared to meet the expectations of the rapidly advancing field. The CIRM Bridges to Stem Cell Research Program provides an excellent opportunity to close the gap between the training at the baccalaureate level and the expectations of stem cell researchers. Our Bridges Program proposes intensive training of selected undergraduate students over a period of 6 months prior to the start of their internship at a host institution. We predict that the comprehensive training at the home institution followed by a full-time research experience at a cutting-edge, stem cell research laboratory will allow these new graduates to be exemplar “new hires” in stem cell research and related fields. These new graduates will help to increase productivity in this area of research and close the “gap” in workforce demand for highly-trained technicians that has been expanding in the last few years. By contributing to the workforce pipeline, the CIRM Bridges Program will benefit the state of California by increasing productivity and establishing the state's research centers and industries as world-leaders in the development of useful therapies in regenerative medicine. The students on our campus represent the diversity of the state of California. Our training program allows students from diverse backgrounds to become a part of the ongoing stem cell research boom. We anticipate that some of the students from our program will pursue advanced degrees, which is of benefit to our state because these individuals will be able to bring diversity of thoughts, opinions, beliefs and problem-solving skills to the rapidly growing stem cell research enterprise. The outreach component of the proposed program will introduce a large numbers of non-biology majors to stem cell research and regenerative medicine. This component of the proposal will help to develop an informed citizenry with appropriate expectations of regenerative medicine and maintain public support for stem cell research within the state of California.
The proposed program will provide ten upper division undergraduates students a year for each of three years with comprehensive training in stem cell research. Students will complete a year long stem cell training program at the home institution followed by a seven month internship at one of four host institutions. The home institution training includes lecture and seminar courses in stem cell biology and related topics, a 16 week stem cell laboratory course and six months of independent research at one of four home laboratories. Students will then take a further CIRM or NIH stem cell techniques course and intern in one of 48 laboratories at 4 host institutions. Students will present the results of their internship at an annual stem cell symposium. The program also proposes to reach a larger student population by creating stem cell/regenerative medicine modules for a non-major introductory biology course and for an upper division non-major’s biology course.
This program builds on an already successful and well respected biology program at the home institution. It takes advantage of the close proximity between the home institution and the four partner institutions so logistics should be, at most, only a minor problem. Reviewers found the training program to be clearly described and that plans for its integration into the normal undergraduate program also to be clear. Reviewers considered the strengths of the program to be the extensive preparation of students for their internships. They commented favorably on the coursework and noted that the applicant institution and the Program Director (PD) have been working hard to develop a program in stem cell biology at the undergraduate level. Reviewers particularly highlighted the educational value of the 16-week lab course students will take prior to their research experience and the 6-month research project students will complete prior to their internship. However, reviewers had serious concerns about internships of only 7 months duration. They questioned whether this is enough time to accomplish any significant research and wondered whether 12 months in a host laboratory would have been better than 6 months in a home laboratory followed by 7 months at a host laboratory. One reviewer would have liked to see some linkage in projects between home and host laboratories so students would be working on related research. Another reviewer commented that the program gives the appearance of trying to support the aspirations of the home faculty to develop their research programs, possibly at the expense of the students. Reviewers commented that the strong mentoring of the trainee during the internship was a strength of the program. They noted that each trainee has multiple mentors: the program director, the home mentor, internship mentor and the host institutes intern coordinator. The trainee meets monthly with the internship mentor as well as the intern coordinator. Reviewers noted that there were currently 48 laboratories for internships although the internships were very unequally distributed among the four host institutions. A reviewer noted that the choice of laboratories at one host institution (largest number of host labs) was good from the standpoint of the ease with which the students will be able to commute and the strength of the stem cell research programs there. Reviewers expressed concern that the criteria used to select host mentors was not clear. They were specifically interested in whether the host mentors were selected based on their past training records with undergraduates. Reviewers considered this particularly important given the short internship period. The reviewers found the outreach program of putting stem cell modules into biology classes for non-majors to be very good; the introductory biology class is taken by a large number of non-majors and will reach many people.
There appears to be a strong commitment on the part of the home institution to support the program. There is a strong letter of support from the president but no strong sense of what the home institution is willing to do other than house the program. Reviewers commented that the home institution has a strong track-record of training in cell biology and molecular biology, has a large minority student population, and ranks highly for preparing students for future doctoral study. The home institution has already made an investment in stem cell training and provided basic equipment and material needs for two classes related to stem cell biology. The institution and the PD have developed courses and a program for students to study stem-cell biology at the undergraduate level, and the PD has obtained further funds through an NSF grant to support the undergraduate stem cell training initiative. The Biology department currently has 4 externally funded undergraduate research training programs in place, so it is clear that the department is committed to training of undergraduates in research. The partner institutions provide outstanding opportunities for stem cell research.
The PD is an assistant professor who will put 19% effort into this program. Reviewers all agreed that she/he is highly qualified to serve as Program Director for this training program. She/he has mentored an impressive number of students in independent research projects, developed and taught a stem cell laboratory course, serves as PI on an NSF grant to develop stem cell protocols for use in undergraduate labs, and serves on state-wide committee on stem cell education. Reviewers expressed significant concern as to whether the PD is being mentored adequately and what the impact of this additional responsibility might be on tenure prospects. One reviewer suggested that this was a personal career decision, but another reviewer would have liked a statement from the dean as to the importance of this program and the importance of the proposed person as PD. The Advisory Committees have appropriate representation, except that there is no person listed from one host institution (although there is a letter of support suggesting established involvement with the home institution).
Reviewers found the mechanisms for the recruitment of qualified and diverse program participants and their placement in internships to be well described. They considered the pool of potential applicants to be likely large, but noted that the applicant institution did not explicitly address the likelihood of being able to recruit 10 students per year. A detailed assessment plan is provided that uses multiple criteria for program evaluation.
Overall, while reviewers were enthusiastic about the curriculum, the internship opportunities and the PD, their concerns about the term of the internship and the criteria for selection of the host mentors somewhat dampened their enthusiasm for this program.