Funding opportunities

Funding Type: 
Grant Number: 
Principle Investigator: 
Funds requested: 
$1 713 558
Funding Recommendations: 
Grant approved: 
Public Abstract: 

We are a large, urban university serving a highly diverse student population. We propose a new stem cell biology training program for master’s-level students in partnership with three leading stem cell research institutions. We propose to offer two new master’s-level specializations in our Biology department to prepare students to enter the stem cell workforce: a Masters of Science in Cell and Molecular Biology with an emphasis in Stem Cell Biology (the “MS program”) in preparation for careers as senior researchers or doctoral studies leading to faculty and research science positions in stem cell biology; and a Professional Science Masters with a concentration in Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (the “PSM program”) in preparation for careers as laboratory technicians and research associates. We will recruit and train 10 students each year. Both programs involve core lecture and laboratory courses in developmental, molecular, and cell biology as well as bioethics and scientific writing taught by faculty at our institution who are experts in their field. PSM students will also take business and biotechnology courses while MS students will begin the first six months of their internship in their first year. During the summer after completing their first year of the program, students will participate in a week-long intensive Stem Cell Laboratory course taught by faculty at one of the host sites where students will learn to propagate, maintain, and manipulate human embryonic stem cells. Both programs will provide students with an intensive research experience in stem cell research at one of our host institutions. MS internships will involve 18 months of original stem cell research culminating in a master’s thesis and leading to the preparation of manuscripts for publication. PSM internships will involve 12 months of research training in a stem cell research laboratory, culminating in a final written and oral research report. Mentoring and professional development are an integral part of both programs. Student cohorts will meet monthly with the Program Director (PD) to discuss their academic and research activities. Students will also gain a broader introduction to the importance and application of stem cell research from guest speakers. The PD will meet regularly with the students and their research mentors to provide continuity of programming and ensure that students thrive in their internships. Through its CIRM Bridges to Stem Cell Research program, we will offer a new general education course in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. This course will not only educate a broad audience, but will also provide a mechanism for recruiting students into the stem cell training programs. Thus, CIRM funding will allow our institution to make an important contribution to the stem cell workforce that truly reflects the diverse composition of our state in partnership with three preeminent research institutions.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

The proposed CIRM Bridges program will benefit the state of California and its residents by providing training to prepare students to enter research careers in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. This is particularly important and timely because our state is positioned as a result of the passage of Proposition 71 to become a leader in stem cell research both nationally and globally. With this emerging field it will be crucial to have a skilled workforce equipped to meet the scientific and technical challenges necessary for advancing scientific knowledge and alleviating human suffering. We are extremely well situated to contribute to this effort. Our Biology department has provided training for hundreds of students, those seeking to make career changes as well as those beginning their working lives. We have a long history of educating students in cutting-edge laboratory methods and responding to the needs of industry and academia. Dozens of our graduates have established careers in the sciences, and our alumni are well represented at all levels throughout the region's biotechnology industry. We have a national reputation for contributing to the diversification of the scientific profession through our many training programs which attract, recruit, and support students from groups underrepresented in the sciences, and indeed our student and our faculty are among the most ethnically and culturally diverse in the nation. With the help of our partner institutions, our CIRM Bridges program will expand the training opportunities in our Cell and Molecular Biology program to include two new specializations: stem cell biology, and biotechnology with an emphasis on regenerative medicine. We will provide a comprehensive slate of lab and lecture courses, research internships, professional mentoring, and community service opportunities to ensure that our students possess not only scientific and technical proficiency but also a thorough grasp of the ethical implications of the technology and the ability to communicate effectively with a general as well as a scientific audience. The research internships will provide training in state-of-the-art facilities in the laboratories of three premiere institutions at the forefront of stem cell research, so that students complete the program with the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to work with both federally and non-federally registered stem cell lines. We will also offer a new general education course addressing scientific, humanistic, ethical and legal perspectives on stem cell technology with special presentations open to the general public, and our students will participate in presenting their work to the broader community. Our graduates will be fully prepared to contribute to the growth of a vibrant stem cell industry that is fully reflective of the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives in our state.

Review Summary: 

This is a proposal to create a CIRM Bridges program in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine for students receiving a masters (MS) or professional science masters (PSM) degree. Ten students per year will complete a series of courses at the applicant institution, including a general course in Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine and one in scientific, humanistic, ethical, and legal perspectives on stem cell technology. They will attend a week-long stem cell laboratory course at a top quality research institution in the area, and will be placed into a laboratory at one of three nearby host research institutions to complete either an 18-month internship (for MS students) or a 12-month internship (for PSM students). At the end of their internship, students will submit both written and oral reports to their home program. The coursework and internship would be integrated to allow students to graduate in a little over 2 years.

Reviewers commented that this is a strong proposal based on a large and diverse applicant pool, a well-designed training program, and excellent laboratory research opportunities. The pool of potential applicants is very large and the proposal carefully addresses issues of recruitment of diverse and qualified individuals. Students in the existing MS and PSM programs are required to maintain a 3.0 grade point average, and about 60% of current students are from underrepresented minorities (URMs) or are first-generation college students. The applicant institution is recognized for its success in granting masters degrees in biology, and for a well-developed series of classes for MS and PSM students that includes writing as well as science courses. Although the one-week stem cell laboratory course was seen as short, the 12- and 18-month internships were praised as of adequate length to achieve expertise in stem cell laboratory techniques. In addition, the internship training environments are outstanding with many opportunities for academic growth at each partner host institution. The proposal outlines thoughtful plans for selecting students, matching them for internships with appropriate laboratories, and assessing their progress, thus increasing the likelihood of success a successful internship. Trainees will be matched with a lab at the host institution, taking into consideration information in the students’ application. Students will meet with the researcher selected for them and if the student should decide it is not a good match, an alternate lab will be selected. During their internship, students would meet monthly with the principal investigator on their project and would participate in their host lab activities, and they would submit both written and oral reports at the end of their internship. Reviewers commented that the proposed program contains a nice blend of scientific technical skill development as well as personal career development, with attention given to developing skills in scientific writing and communication, and an introduction to the biotech workplace environment. Reviewers spoke highly of this program’s thoughtful integration of auxiliary activities with the internship and didactic components of the MS and PSM programs.

Reviewers were also very positive about the institutional commitment and partnering arrangements. The MS and PSM programs attract students from 4-year schools in the state and throughout the US, speaking to the quality of the education provided, and the applicant institution has an impressive track record of advancing the career development of its population of students. In this proposal, the institution highlights its commitment to the stem cell training program by leveraging the CIRM award with outside funding: CIRM internships would support students for 12 months, and other sources of support would be used to fund the additional 6 months of internship for the MS students. In terms of partnering, the institution has long-established interactions with institutions in the area that have strong research programs in stem cell biology, and it has experience placing MS and PSM students in laboratories at these collaborating institutions. The institutional history and evidence of commitment to this Bridges program were viewed as very positive.

Finally, the program administration was considered good, although reviewers pointed to some weaknesses. One of the strengths of the proposal is the track record, experience, commitment and accomplishments of the Program Director (PD). Reviewers commented that the PD has appropriate experience in education and administration and has a strong commitment to the development of minorities. The Advisory Committee, which has appropriate representation from all relevant host institutions, also has a nice blend of scientific expertise in the field along with substantial experience in training programs and in working with URM populations. The institutional track record is generally excellent in recruiting URMs. Potential weaknesses pointed out by one reviewer were that the PD seems over committed, and that students in the program only meet once a month. The reviewer felt that students need more interaction with the PD and with each other to develop a feeling of being in a program, especially when they are heading to mainstream institutions only a few months after entering the MS program.

Overall, reviewers felt that this was an outstanding program for training research personnel in stem cell research.