Bridges to Stem Cell Research and Therapy at Pasadena City College (PCC) is a stem cell training program funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The program offers exceptional research, educational, and training opportunities to PCC biotechnology students. Participants have an opportunity to perform a research internship and are eligible for coursework, educational enhancement activities, and training related to stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. They also take part in community outreach activities that increase awareness of stem cell research among high school students in diverse communities as well as patient and healthcare engagement activities to raise their own awareness of the importance of their research efforts. The program has produced highly qualified lab personnel for stem cell research in both academic and industry settings.
Qualifying students selected for the internship program receive a one-year paid internship in a world-class laboratory performing stem cell research. Internship sites include three renowned research institutes: the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the University of Southern California (USC), and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA). Trainees are offered research opportunities with mentors in fields ranging from basic science of stem cells to translational research in regenerative medicine. Selected students are also eligible for coursework, including instruction on the process for development and regulation of new stem cell-based therapies, and educational enhancement activities related to stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. A training course in human embryonic stem cell culture techniques prepares them for the research opportunities.
Educational enhancement activities that prepare students for the internships and enhance their internship experience include: seminars and symposia (intellectual property and confidentiality issues, stem cells and regenerative medicine, bioethics, and stem cell career opportunities); Stem Cell Seminar Series at PCC hosted by CIRM Bridges interns; and specialized workshops (data management, bioinformatics, scientific writing and presentations, and graduate school applications). Interns also take a graduate-level regulatory course at USC, and PCC has added courses in: Advanced Stem Cell Manipulation Techniques (taught in collaboration with Caltech); Applications of Fluorescence Microscopy; and a Stem Cell Journal Club.
The interns also participate in high school and community outreach activities. They visit local high schools to give presentations on stem cell research and host a Stem Cell Training Workshop at PCC for participating high school teachers and selected students. A portable Stem Cell Demonstration Laboratory extends outreach by providing stem cell training in the teachers’ classrooms so that additional students can work with stem cells in an interactive way that may encourage involvement in stem cell research. Teaching modules in Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine have also been developed for outreach purposes. Patient and healthcare engagement activities, including a CHLA hospital tour, allow interns to reach out to the community their research may benefit.
The bridge formed between PCC and institutions engaged in stem cell research and regenerative medicine adds immeasurable value to its Biological Technology Certificate Program. PCC has offered certificates in Biological Technology since 1999 and a Certificate of Achievement in Stem Cell Culture since 2005. Students in PCC’s Biotechnology Program represent the diversity of California’s workforce, including: first generation college students, individuals pursuing a second career, women re-entering the workforce, displaced workers, and veterans. Their educational backgrounds range from no college experience to advanced degrees. More than half have already earned a Bachelor’s degree but need additional training to secure employment or enter postgraduate programs. Those selected for the CIRM Bridges Internship Program are drawn from a diverse pool of Biotechnology Program students and the general student body which is 79% minority, 49% low-income, and 44% first-generation.
Summary: The CIRM-funded program: Bridges to Stem Cell Research and Therapy at Pasadena City College offers advanced stem cell training and research experience to PCC biotechnology students, who bring both laboratory skills and diversity to the California stem cell workforce. Engaging in long-term academic research projects in laboratories performing stem cell research, along with related training activities, has prepared the interns for varied research and career opportunities in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. After completing the internship program, students have accepted research positions in academia and the biotechnology industry; prepared to transfer to four-year universities; and been accepted into graduate or professional programs.