San Francisco State University is a large, urban university serving a highly diverse student population. In the fourth year of our CIRM Bridges 2.0 program, 10 master’s-level CIRM trainees appointed in June 2019, are on track to complete their internship at host institutes and graduated (or will graduate this summer) with a Master’s of Science degree in Biology, Concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology (emphasis in Stem Cell Biology) or Professional Science Master’s degree (MS-Biomedical Science) Concentration in Stem Cell Science. The PSM program provides additional coursework in business and is tailored towards students interested in pursuing a position in the biotechnology sector upon graduation. During the Covid-19 campus closure period, students have continued to work on their project remotely without delaying the time of the training period nor expending any CIRM funding about the regulated budget categories. Out of ten Bridges trainees, eight have completed their CIRM-funded master’s research by June 1, 2020, and remaining two will defend their master’s project in July or August. Upon graduation, three students will enter Ph.D. programs this fall (U. Washington, Stanford and UC Irvine), one student will enter UC Hastings College of Law, one student will start medical school, and four students have obtained job offers and will soon enter workforce in research institutes or biotech sectors.
During the first year of our program, this group of CIRM Bridges trainees took core courses to build a strong foundation in developmental biology, stem cell science and biotechnology. After completing the first-year coursework, students participated in a week-long intensive Human Stem Cell training workshop taught by faculty at UCSF, where they learned to propagate, maintain, and manipulate human stem cells. By the second year, all of the CIRM Bridges trainees had joined a stem cell research lab at one of our host institutions or affiliated stem cell companies. CIRM trainees conducted research using human progenitor or stem cells. At the end of their second year of training, the trainees completed a final master project report in addition to an oral defense. Since 2009, this effective training program has trained more than 120 students and led to more than 40 peer-reviewed journal publications by CIRM Bridges trainees. Mentoring and professional development are an integral part of the CIRM Bridges program. We exposed students to the various career opportunities available to them after graduation and offered resume and interview workshops to prepare students for job and graduate school applications. The Program Director met regularly with the students and their research mentors to provide continuity of programming supervision and ensure that the students thrived in their internships. CIRM students attended monthly meetings with the Program Director to cover a range of topics, and met with alumni that are involved in stem cell research and/or are attending graduate or medical school programs. Students gained a broader introduction to the importance of stem cell research by interacting with guest speakers, including members of various patient advocacy groups and biotech/pharma professionals.
In addition, our program has supported 9 new CIRM trainees who were recruited to the program in Fall 2019. These Year 5 students have completed foundation graduate courses and are appointed as CIRM Bridges trainees in June/July 2020 for conducting full-time stem cell research at host institutes (UCSF and Gladstone Institutes). In 2019-2020, the CIRM students have had the opportunity to meet with representatives from several patient advocate groups including Patient Advocacy speaker from National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The students have enjoyed these meetings as it has provided them with important insights on many current health issues, career outlooks, strong urgency and drive to help apply their skills and training in stem cell biology to identify new strategies/solutions to address many pressing health needs. The program also hosted a CIRM Bridges alumni panel on Ph.D. programs in the United States and an industry career panel of Professionals working in a broad spectrum of industry careers. In summary, the program is making important contributions to the development of a talented and diverse pool of trained professionals that will help advance CIRM’s mission to develop stem cell therapies to meet the medical needs of our state and nation.