California is a leader in advancing stem cell and regenerative medical research. Our CIRM Bridges to Stem Cell Research program is designed to create a pipeline for the training and development of the next generation of scientists in the field with a focus on enhancing diversity. The primary component is the placement of trainees at host site labs to engage in stem cell and regenerative medicine laboratory research projects. In the past year, we have recruited and trained a cohort of diverse student interns from our host campus at California State University San Marcos and from our community college partners, MiraCosta College and San Diego Miramar College. These students performed stem cell research at local institutions, including the University of California San Diego, The Salk Institute for Biologicial Sciences, and Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. They assisted in meaningful research contributions to areas in Alzheimer’s, microcephaly, lung development, and SARS-COV-2 infection in the central nervous system. Despite shutdowns and other pandemic related closures, our interns were able to successfully complete their full year in almost entirely face-to-face lab research activities. The interns were able to do research presentations at our research colloquia, the 2021 International Society for Stem Cell Research Annual conference, the CIRM Bridges Annual Trainee Meeting, and our Bridges Retreat, that were all held virtually due to the pandemic.
Our program is unique because we recruit regionally from CSUSM and two community colleges that offer extensive education opportunities in life sciences and biotechnology. Students attending these institutions are diverse. We train 10-11 students per year who are representative of our region and often remain in the area to join the scientific workforce. The composition of this cohort reflects the diversity of our student population, including our partnering campuses, MiraCosta and San Diego Miramar Colleges. Of the 11 students accepted for the internship, 8 of them were women, 5 were Hispanic, 2 identified as two or more ethnicities, 1 Asian, and 2 Caucasian. Additionally, a large proportion (73%) of our cohort were first generation college students.
We supplement the internship experience with K-12 outreach, patient engagement and advocacy, mentee training, education, and professional development programming. Some of these activities were highly impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions, especially outreach and patient advocacy. However, we were able to virtually offer an outreach activity to local Girl Scout troops and attend talks and seminars from patient advocates. Interns were able to hone their academic and career goals including building a resume to enable them to successfully join the local workforce once their internships ended. Seventy percent of our interns have secured continuing work in stem cell focused jobs in our region. Therefore, California will benefit from this additional pool of well-prepared stem cell scientists from diverse backgrounds that have a broad understanding of the benefits of stem cell research that will continue to advocate and accelerate California’s commitment to advancing stem cell research, treatments, and therapies for human diseases.