Year 3

The focus of USC’s training program in stem cell biology and medicine continues to be to train the next generation of stem cell scientists, with the overall goal of aleviating human suffering caused by deficiencies in stem cell function.

Our CIRM training grant funds doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and clinical fellows. Doctoral students are pursuing a Ph.D. degree; postdoctoral fellows seek training beyond their Ph.D. or M.D.; clinical fellows are in the final stages of their training and are seeking to augment their clinical training with research experience.

Common to each of these groups is practical training in which fellows conduct research in laboratories of USC faculty members working in diverse areas of stem cell biology.

An equally important part of the program is a series of seminars designed to expose students to cutting edge stem cell science and the most accomplished scientists in the field. We also expect the students themselves to present their own work to their peers, and we have provided several venues for them to do so, including a weekly Stem Cell and Developmental Biology seminar series, a yearly Stem Cell Retreat, and a Stem Cell Day at USC in which students and fellows present their latest work.

Our training program also includes didactic classes in stem cell biology, developmental biology and stem cell ethics. These classes provide the most advanced information about stem cell science, serving to immerse students in the latest scientific literature and provide them with a deep awareness of the bioethical issues that stem cell scientists face.

Finally, as of this year, we are offering our students and fellows a series of professional development seminars focusing on issues such as how to prepare a resume, what to expect on a job interview, and how to approach the choice between an academic position and a position in industry.

Some highlights and accomplishments of our program this year include the following.

Provost Professor Andrew McMahon, formerly of Harvard, was recruited to become the Director of the Eli and Edythe Broad-CIRM Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research. Dr. McMahon is internationally known for his work on mechanisms of organ formation in mammals, and for devising new methods to study gene function. Dr. McMahon is now in the process of building the Broad institute, and is actively recruiting new stem cell faculty.

Another milestone in stem cell research at USC is the inauguration of a new graduate program in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. This program, one of only a few in the country, will offer Ph.D. degrees in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. We expect the first class of students to matriculate in the program this fall.

A number of our fellows have contributed to important advances in stem cell research. Here are a few examples: Dr. Maksim Plikus, a CIRM postdoctoral fellow, published nine outstanding papers in the area of skin development and regeneration with his mentor Cheng-Ming Chuong, and this year was appointed an Assistant Professor at UC Irvine. A publication by CIRM postdoctoral fellow, Eve Kandyba, also in the area of skin regeneration, was noted by the faculty of 1000 as being of “special significance.” Dr. Gabrielle Davis, a clinical fellow, presented her work on the use of stem cells to alleviate lesions caused by radiation treatments of cancer at the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (September 2012) in Geneva. During the last reporting period, fellows supported by the training grant have published a number of articles in high impact journals, including Developmental Cell, Molecular Cell, Science, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. These papers focused on a variety of stem cell-related topics including how stem cells determine the shape of the developing jaw, how, in molecular terms, stress hormones exert their effects on stem cells, the relationship between cancer stem cells and obesity, and new methods for the modification of the rat genome to produce disease models.

USC’s Stem Cell Training Program continues to train the next generation of stem cell biologists in how to conduct rigorous, cutting edge science, and how to make a real difference in people’s lives.