Year 4

This annual report describes the achievements of the California State University Long Beach (CSULB) stem cell biotechnology training program during 2019-2020. This is the fourth year of the five-year Bridges 2.0 award from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to CSULB. Each year the components of this program are assessed and enhanced.

The goal of the CIRM – funded stem cell biotechnology training program at CSULB is to train exceptional and diverse students to enter the stem cell research workforce and accelerate the development of stem cell based therapies to treat or cure patients with unmet medical needs. They are recruited from the ~2,000 students in the CSULB Departments of Chemistry and Biological Sciences, and qualified post-baccalaureate students from other institutions. CSULB is a large (~38,000 students) comprehensive urban university at which nearly all of the students are California citizens (more than 95%). These students reflect the ethnic mosaic of the local communities and enrich the scientific enterprise with their unique perspectives. They also educate their communities by sharing the knowledge and experience they gain in this training program. The students enroll in the two-year stem cell track of the post-baccalaureate Biotechnology Certificate Program. The first year, at CSULB, consists of courses and research experience. To accelerate the development of therapies, required coursework, which includes Stem Cell Biology and Bioethics and Public Policy, was expanded to include an exploration of the drug development process and regulatory pathway. During the second year, ten interns perform full-time research in stem cell laboratories at Cedars-Sinai, City of Hope, and UC Irvine. Extensive mentoring, advising, and workshops throughout and after the program ensure successful academic and career placement for current participants and alumni. This program has a history of successfully training students for graduate study and for the California workforce.

To understand the importance and urgency of accelerating the development of stem cell therapies to treat patients with unmet medical needs, the students engaged in activities that engendered in them an appreciation of patients’ perspectives and experiences. The patient engagement activities required for all the CSULB-CIRM student interns included a workshop hosting an electronic engagement with a wheel-chair bound spinal cord injury patient and advocate from the Long Beach Veterans Administration Health Care System, direct interaction with orthopedic and cancer patients and their families at a local children’s hospital, and additional direct interaction with diabetic patients and their families at other facilities.

The CSULB stem cell interns also participated in various community outreach and education activities. All of the current stem cell interns participated in on-campus outreach activities which included creating video presentations which were used for a workshop about stem cell research and the internship and participating in panel discussions (via zoom). Some of the stem cell interns presented posters at the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Research Symposium. The interns would have also presented to pre-service middle and high school biology teachers who are concurrently completing their degrees in the Science Education, however the presentations were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These teachers could have provided their students with information about stem cell biology, regenerative medicine, and the process and importance of research. Two other (virtual) activities included presentations at a local community college and for a community civic leadership program, which trains a range of community members such as city officials, firemen, and nonprofit organization administrators.

Nearly one hundred percent of the students completing this program have been offered positions for further study or employment in the stem cell biotechnology workforce. Many of these students are currently employed in California as research technicians, others have continued their studies in M.S., Ph.D. and postdoctoral, or health professions programs (M.D., residency, nursing, pharmacy), and a few are teaching science. During the internship the students are involved in a variety of research projects including exploring cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, lung disease, treating spinal cord and traumatic brain injury, and basic research on stem cell biology. Their research as interns has contributed to many scientific publications and clinical trials. The CIRM-funded stem cell biotechnology training program generates highly technically trained individuals who will enhance future biomedical research in California.