The University of California San Francisco (UCSF) has a long history of making innovative discoveries that change the way scientists and clinicians think about disease processes and their approaches to finding cures. This trend has continued in the field of stem cell biology, in part, with funding from CIRM. In this context, the goal of this CIRM-funded initiative is to establish and operate a Shared Research and Teaching Laboratory that gives scientists access to nonfederally funded research and tissue culture space, as well as equipment for experiments that utilize second generation human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). We are also providing training to UCSF scientists at all stages of their careers and to investigators at our Bay Area partnering institutions. As part of the CIRM Bridges Program, we are supporting the training and work of students who are enrolled at San Francisco State University and Humboldt State University.
The operating budget for the UCSF Shared Laboratory began in June of 2009. Equipment installation was complete by the end of October. Thus, operations began in November of 2009 when the laboratory and specialized equipment became fully functional, which doubled the size of newly remodeled nonfederal research space that is available to our users. The operations of the facility were optimized by hiring a manager and supporting personnel with a great deal of experience in hESC biology and the primary analytical techniques that are used in this field.
With regard to the shared laboratory component, the tissue culture facilities are used by investigators who are involved in diverse aspects of hESC research. For example, two laboratories are producing induced pluripotent stem cells and differentiating the lines along the major lineages including precursors of pancreatic beta cells. Scientists from another laboratory are banking newly derived hESC lines for distribution. Investigators from other groups are pursuing hESC projects in many other areas including neuronal, blood, and cancer applications. Light microscopy and videomicroscopy setups are being fully utilized in routine applications and novel configurations such as a high throughput screening workflow. The Becton Dickinson cell analyzer we purchased is used seven days a week for a minimum of 12 hours per day by approximately 40 stem cell researchers a month. Thus, the Shared Laboratory is now fully operational.
With regard to the training component, the Shared Laboratory and Teaching Facility offers two types of learning experiences. One type is a formal one-week course with lecture and laboratory components that is taught by UCSF faculty members who are noted stem cell biologists and experienced laboratory personnel. The 5-day course, “The Basics of hESC Biology,” was offered for the first time in November, 2009. Most of the enrollees were from the Humboldt State CIRM Bridges program and San Francisco City College, one of our partnering institutions. The lectures covered basic aspects of human embryonic development and the fundamentals of organogenesis. Additional topics included hESC derivation, propagation, and differentiation. In the laboratory portion, students learned how to culture hESCs. Analysis techniques included various forms of microscopy (light, video, and confocal), cell sorting, and chromosome enumeration. The second type of training experience is one-on-one instruction that is offered on an ongoing basis to researchers who want to incorporate hESC approaches into their programs. Most often, scientists want to learn basic methods for culturing the cells, but instruction in analysis techniques is also highly sought after. Since the facility opened, we have provided individualized training to more than 20 investigators.
Finally, a great deal of effort has gone into the construction of a website that will support both the research and training portions of the laboratory’s operation. With regard to research, investigators will be able to schedule blocks of time for using the tissue culture hoods and incubators as well as the specialized equipment that the laboratory houses. This system capture details, which will allow us to tailor our operations to the needs of our users. Numerous protocols will also be made available through the site. With regard to teaching, the portal will be used by applicants to our formal course offering. Faculty will use an embedded system to review the qualifications of prospective students and to choose attendees. We will also use the website to distribute course materials and publish schedules. This site will have other features that will optimize our interactions with users. For example, there will be a chat section where researchers can ask questions that facility faculty and staff will answer in real time. We will also use this portal to post exciting research papers published by our users and stem cell scientists across the world. Lastly, we will highlight public policy issues.