Funding opportunities

Funding Type: 
Grant Number: 
Principle Investigator: 
Funds requested: 
$1 727 991
Funding Recommendations: 
Grant approved: 
Public Abstract: 

The proposed CIRM Bridges to Stem Cell Research Award will support and enhance further development of an existing stem cell biology training program that includes a wide range of internship opportunities, a rigorous curriculum, substantive auxiliary training opportunities, and stem cell techniques coursework at a CIRM-funded Shared Research Laboratory. Based upon the applicant institution’s demographics (nearly 76% minorities, 45% low-income, and 47% first-generation) and their experience in biotechnology training, it is anticipated that CIRM Bridges interns recruited for the project will represent the diversity of California’s population. The grant project will build upon existing partnerships between the home institution and three outstanding host institutions that have collaborated on earlier projects to enhance stem cell research. Potential interns will be recruited through strong community outreach, including dissemination of General Education modules for stem cell education, inviting students from other colleges and universities to attend seminars and programs, advertising through campus and community media outlets, and support from established biotechnology research and training centers. The CIRM Bridges program will provide up to 30 internships over three years. Internships will last one year. Interns will be required to complete a Certificate of Achievement in Biological Technology (or equivalent) and a Stem Cell Culture Certificate (total of 59 units). The following courses will be added to the curriculum: 1) advanced stem cell techniques (collaboration with a host institution); 2) fluorescent microscopy; and 3) journal club. A stem cell unit will be added to RNA Interference and majors Cell and Molecular Biology courses. General Education stem cell modules will be produced at both the collegiate and secondary level. Interns will be eligible for coursework in stem cell biology at host institutions, including CIRM-funded courses. Auxiliary training will encompass seminars (on topics such as intellectual property, confidentiality and career opportunities), attendance at scientific meetings and symposiums, and research presentations. The training will prepare CIRM Bridges interns to work at various levels in stem cell research labs including laboratory assistant, lab manager, professional staff, and research associates, or to continue in postgraduate programs. The program will offer trainees research opportunities with 40 potential mentors in fields ranging from basic science of stem cells to translational research in regenerative medicine. By combining established programs and partnerships, rigorous curriculum, mentoring at both the home and host institutions, performance evaluations of trainees and program, and experienced leadership and research opportunities at partner institutions, the program will produce highly qualified lab personnel for stem cell research in both academic and industry settings.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

The proposed CIRM Bridges to Stem Cell Research Award will fulfill CIRM’s objectives to: augment the ranks of laboratory personnel trained in state of the art stem cell research techniques; connect promising trainees with potential employers; and broaden participation in stem cell research by individuals representing the diversity of California’s population. The diversity of prospective interns is ensured by both the applicant institution’s demographics (nearly 76% are minorities, 45% are low-income, and 47% are first-generation) and their experience with student populations in their biotechnology program. The grant will support and enhance an existing stem cell biology training program that includes: • internship opportunities with 40 potential mentors in fields ranging from basic science of stem cells to translational research in regenerative medicine • up to 30 one-year internships over life of the grant • rigorous curriculum and established Biotechnology Certificate Program • established partnerships between the home and host institutions • substantive auxiliary training opportunities • stem cell techniques coursework at a CIRM-funded Shared Research Laboratory • extensive mentoring and program evaluation strategies • experienced leadership at partner institutions These attributes will ensure that the program produces highly qualified lab personnel from diverse backgrounds for stem cell research in both academic and industry settings.

Review Summary: 

This application from a community college proposes a training program for 10 pre- and post-baccalaureate students per year leading to a Certificate in Stem Cell Culture. Other successful certificate programs are in place at the college, which has an interesting student population: about 40% of students in the certificate programs have bachelor’s degrees but not laboratory experience. Furthermore, the applicant has already developed much of the curriculum that will serve as the foundation of the Bridges program. Reviewers were impressed that the program was well organized and comprehensive, especially for a community college. The Bridges award would allow students in the program to be placed in world-class labs at local universities, thus extending the established and well-regarded stem cell program.

Students will be recruited from a few community colleges for 12-month intensive research internships. During the internship they will be enrolled in coursework at the home (Program Director’s) community college. Other courses will be done in conjunction with major research universities in the area. Students are expected to present their research at a scientific conference. The Program Director plans to add more courses including a journal club to the program if the Bridges Award is given, but reviewers found the course descriptions a bit vague. One weakness of the program description was a lack of numbers regarding under-represented minorities, though the colleges from which students are recruited have large minority student populations. Reviewers would have also liked to see a course-load timeline in order to better understand the structure of the program. The program director has identified 40 potential mentors at outstanding research institutions, but no industry labs were identified.

The program director was considered a major strength of the application, and the PD’s productive PhD and post-doctoral work at major local research institutions allows for superb contacts in those places. Reviewers considered the advisory committee to be too large. The program director has supervised a stem cell program since 2005. Given this experience and success, some reviewers raised the question of whether the Bridges award would offer much “value added” to the institution. However, generally, reviewers agreed that the applicant should be rewarded for the successful program and allowed to strengthen it through Bridges funding.

Institutional commitment was represented in a letter by the college’s president. One of the host institutions also was represented by a letter from a director of a regenerative medicine institute, but letters from two of the other host institutions were written by fairly junior-level faculty. Nonetheless, because the program director has established relationships with all these local institutions, reviewers felt the contacts could be leveraged to build on these existing partnerships. Reviewers also raised concern that the program director does not appear to have a permanent position or title at the home institution.

Overall, reviewers found the proposal to be well written, and the program impressively comprehensive for a community college certificate program. Reviewers would have appreciated more detail on the curriculum and on the mechanisms to recruit under-represented minorities to the program. Major strengths of the application were the program director, the track record this director has had in establishing a well-regarded stem cell program, and the wide variety of laboratory opportunities at major research institutions offered to students through the director’s established contacts. Given these considerations, the GWG was enthusiastic in recommending the program for funding.