California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) is the only public university in Ventura County, a region that is rapidly developing into a biotechnology hub. Currently, no research university serves this area. Since its inception in 2001, CSUCI has established one of the most successful professional science master’s degree programs in biotechnology and an innovative MS Biotechnology and MBA dual degree program within the CSU system with a robust enrollment of more than 165 students. The Stem Cell Technology and Lab Management (SCTLM) emphasis within the MS degree program was implemented in 2009 after receiving a Bridges award from CIRM. The purpose of this emphasis was to provide intensive training to students in the field of stem cell technology via engagement in cutting-edge stem cell courses and a mandatory 1-year internship at a CIRM approved facility. In 2016 we received a new EDUC 2 Bridges II Award from CIRM for 5 years and currently we are finishing Year 4 of this grant. Our 2019-2020 cohort of students, which is the fourth cohort in this grant cycle graduated in early September 2020. We have recruited cohort 5 students as well, who started their internships in August, 2020.
Our training program requires students enrolled in the SCTLM emphasis to complete a set of four common core courses as well as six required courses focusing on molecular cell biology, bioinformatics, genomics and proteomics, stem cell culture techniques, cell culture facility management, regenerative medicine, project management, biotech law & regulation and an internship. These courses are being offered in various formats-in-classroom, online, seminar, full lecture/lab and 1-year internship and thus allow students to experience the full benefits of a diverse educational regimen. In addition, students are also required to complete 3-4 elective courses from a pool of 21 electives offered. As a result of this roadmap, interns complete more than 400 hours of coursework and also learn about the research of stem cell experts through a seminar course that typically invites 10-12 researchers from CIRM funded institutions. Before the start of the internship students are required to complete a week long intensive stem cell training workshop offered at an off-site location, typically in the summer. The most valuable experience for the students is the 1-year internship whereby they acquire skills in stem cell techniques, work on an original independent research project, establish collaborations with other scientists in the field, network with peers and project themselves as skilled researchers in stem cell technology. Thus, the curriculum within this emphasis consistently offers students a variety of options to expand their knowledge and lab skills in stem cell sciences. In addition to didactic instruction and the internship, the interns also participate in auxiliary activities in four areas- healthcare and patient engagement, community outreach, educational enhancement and career development. In addition, in collaboration with the Americans for Cures foundation, our students are also involved in patient advocacy programs.
CSUCI has established a mentor database from a plethora of host institutions that conduct world-class research such as the Scripps Research Institute, Salk Institute, the Beckman Center at City of Hope, Loma Linda university, Stanford, UCSB, USC, UCR, UCSD, UCSC, UCSF, UCD, UC Merced, Cedars-Sinai Center, the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Stanford university. The CIRM Bridges award has provided us the opportunity to avail of these institutions as training sites which has proven to be an excellent platform for the students to fulfill the unmet need for highly qualified technical personnel in stem cell research technology. Interns have frequently been offered employment by these host institutions after finishing their internships and this reflects the confidence that researchers are placing in our interns. Graduating interns tend to continue their scientific endeavors and fulfill the need for stem cell biologists in California. Future endeavors of our interns have been varying- with several opting for the industry, some continuing to work in the academia while others pursuing PhD programs.
The training program has directly made a key contribution to the stem cell efforts supported by the people of California as evidenced by our interns’ interest in pursuing future research in the stem cell areas either via seeking employment in the R & D sectors of stem cell based biotech companies or labs in academia and also pursuing PhD programs. Our interns have spoken at community events held on our campus and increased the transparency of the SCTLM emphasis and CIRM funded research. This training program made possible by the CIRM Bridges award has gained tremendous popularity at CSUCI and continues to garner wide interest.