Funding opportunities

Funding Type: 
Grant Number: 
Principle Investigator: 
Funds requested: 
$1 604 720
Funding Recommendations: 
Recommended if funds allow
Grant approved: 
Public Abstract: 

The Bridges to Stem Cell Research Training Program will provide a practical laboratory training experience in stem cell biology with integrated educational seminars and mentored guidance for highly qualified and culturally diverse senior undergraduate and Master’s level students. Our internship-host institution provides mentors who are world-leaders in stem cell research. There is a great scientific variety of available hands-on training environments in embryonic, induced pluripotent, and adult stem cell biology, spanning the basic to translational investigative spectrum. Our partnership achieves the major Bridges Program objectives including: 1) training laboratory personnel in current stem cell research techniques, policies, and ethics, and 2) facilitating the entry of an ethnically and culturally diverse student population into the emerging world of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. Ten Bridges trainees will study the latest advances in stem cell biology and will present their own work in a setting in which they can obtain constructive feedback. They will interact with their peers in formal and informal forums and will meet leaders in the field. Bridges internships will be 1 year in duration for graduate students and 9 months for undergraduate students and will take place in screened and selected internship-host labs. The vast majority of intern time will be spent on laboratory research. Working with faculty, researchers, and staff technicians, Bridges interns will be taught stem cell and essential analysis techniques such as microscopy, cell sorting, and good laboratory practices (GLP) in the internship-host lab and affiliated cores. This hands-on experience will be supplemented by participation in a biweekly Stem Cell Journal Club, a weekly stem cell seminar series, a yearly International Stem Cell Symposium, and by informal mentoring by host-institution faculty who have an active role in the student's education by functioning as advisor, teacher, and collaborator during the internship program. A key component is trainee mentoring that is designed to not only provide a supportive environment for learning and discovery, but to monitor and evaluate a trainee's progress through the program at both the home and internship-host institution. Our inter-institutional training program will provide an opportunity for engaged, interested, and successful trainees to gain the necessary skills and qualifications to springboard into careers in stem cell research that span the spectrum, from basic studies to translational approaches, in academia and industry. The home institution has a long history of successfully preparing underrepresented minority students for doctoral study in science and technology. This program is expected to build on this track record by contributing significantly to the number of minority students preparing for careers in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

The Bridges to Stem Cell Research Program will train students in world-leading host institution labs for technical positions in stem cell research in academia and industry. Interns will come from a culturally and ethnically diverse applicant pool, increasing underrepresented groups engaged in stem cell research. The grantee institution was recently ranked among the top five by the NSF for MS degree holders to earn a subsequent PhD degree, which likely will add to the diversity of stem cell teachers and researchers at California institutions. Our training program will also provide scientists and technical staff for California's biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and stem cell companies, whose success will propel hiring and increased economic prosperity for the state. The host institution supports a scientific enterprise of $900M+ in extramural funding (2007) with ~$46M in CIRM grants and is one of the largest State employers with economic activity generating $1.2B annually in taxes. Each dollar of taxpayer investment generates almost $15 in economic activity. The grantee institution also generates $900M+ million for the regional economy. This impact sustains more than 13,500 jobs and generates $57M per year in tax revenue. CIRM trainees will have a tangible health and economic impact for California, its academic institutions and biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and stem cell companies, and the rest of the nation as California and its citizens move forward with personalized medicine during the 21st century.

Review Summary: 

This is a proposal to train ten undergraduate or master’s level students in basic and translational stem cell science. Students will complete a series of basic biology and laboratory courses at the home institution, and will then be placed in a research laboratory at a host institution for 9 months to 1 year. Over 40 laboratories at the host institution will be available for student fellowships. During their research fellowship, the students will attend meetings, seminar series and lectures on stem cell research, including a weekly seminar series on stem cell biology with one-page graded reports. Students will also attend activities at the host laboratory, including weekly lab meetings, and will be paired with senior lab personnel.

An important strength of this application is the excellent hands-on training that will occur in host laboratories. Some of this will occur through assignment of CIRM trainees to a specific supervisor (either a graduate student or senior fellow) to allow for ongoing daily supervision in the laboratory. Interns will also have access to state-of-the-art core facilities. Duration could be an issue for the undergraduate trainees as their training will be limited to 9 months. Oversight mechanisms are excellent. Host labs are mandated to engage in weekly interactions with the intern and host PI, either alone or in the context of lab meetings. Host faculty will also provide written one page quarterly evaluations based on the trainee’s progress in the lab. Criteria will include presentations made at group meetings and participation in the biweekly Stem Cell Club. Auxiliary training activities include the weekly stem cell biology seminar series, pertinent seminars from a program on society and genetics, and an annual one-day stem cell symposium featuring internationally renowned stem cell scientists. Most impressive is the requirement for trainees to submit written summaries of the weekly noon stem cell seminar series.

In addition to these strengths, reviewers identified several weaknesses with this training program. First, little or no description was provided for how the training plans will differ between undergraduate and master’s level students. Second, no formal course in stem cell techniques is required. Students are expected to acquire skills at their host labs, and a training course at a neighboring institution is available but not required. Reviewers commented that this would lead to a lack of standardization in material to be covered. One reviewer was particularly concerned since, while the bulk of the host training faculty are professors with established and accomplished programs, several are assistant professors who are at the beginning of their research careers and might not have adequate mentoring experience. This reviewer would have felt more comfortable if the program had taken measures to ensure appropriate mentoring. A third weakness identified in this application was that there are no outreach programs are in place. Finally, reviewers were concerned that the path for integration of coursework and internship are not clearly described. They indicated that the failure to describe important aspects of the training program made it difficult to assess its merit.

The institutional commitment was considered strong. Although a letter of support from the institution did not contain any specifics, it was supportive of the program director and of the program overall. A letter from a dean provides much more detail, including commitment of faculty time for teaching, space for the tissue culture lab, and $500 for each student to travel to national conferences. The partnering institution plans to augment the CIRM award with additional direct support to laboratories hosting CIRM Bridge students, although the amount and extent of support was not specified. Overall, reviewers felt that both institutions were supportive of the training program.

The program director has a strong training record, mentoring over 50 students in research and participating in several institutional training programs including the NSF/Howard Hughes Institute Workshop for Pre-College Teachers. Over the last 12 years, the PD has also been active in bringing science to local schools and student groups, underscoring a commitment to outreach activities. Unfortunately, the PD only commits 1% time to this program, and lists a Co-PD who is a very junior assistant professor with 3 years of experience. In spite of this junior status reviewers were positive about the Co-PD. The Co-PD trained at a lab at the partnering institution, and reviewers commented that knowledge of the researchers and culture of this partnering institution could be helpful to the student interns. Reviewers were very supportive of the advisory committee, which includes program coordinators of several NIH-sponsored minority student programs.

Overall, reviewers felt that this was a strong program that lacked a few key components, such as a core stem cell course and a clearer description of the program itself.