Our training program is an interdisciplinary Specialization in Regenerative Medicine, offered within the MS degrees in Biomedical Engineering, Biological Sciences, and Animal Science. The MS specialization is a 2-year program, which includes one academic-year of coursework plus a course-capstone project at our institution, a one-week Pluripotent Cell Techniques Course, and a full-time/off-site nine-month internship at a non-profit research institution or for-profit biotech company. Students also complete patient-engagement activities throughout the program.
During this reporting period, our eleventh cohort (10 students) completed their course-capstone projects, completed their internships, and will finish their training program after presenting their work at the CIRM Trainee Meeting in mid-July. Also during this reporting period, our twelfth cohort (10 students) completed their coursework and will complete their course-capstone project by the end of August, working with faculty from Biomedical Engineering, Biological Sciences, and Animal Science. This cohort has already matched to their internship (at Direct Biologics, Genentech, the University of California San Diego, and ViaCyte) and will start after their Stem Cell Techniques Course. Finally, our thirteenth cohort (6 students) was admitted to the program and will begin coursework in the fall.
The graduates of this program have strengthened the future of cell-based therapies in California by contributing to all aspects of the field. Graduates of our program are directly strengthening stem cell research and regenerative medicine by performing fundamental investigations in both academic laboratories (as research associates and doctoral students) and for-profit companies, developing and manufacturing regenerative medicine products at biotech companies, and participating in clinical-trial organization. Additionally, our graduates in the medical device sector are indirectly benefiting the field by providing their regenerative medicine perspective to traditional device product design and development.
Our core coursework (i.e. courses taken by students from all three majors) is laboratory intensive, and includes Tissue Engineering (virtual), Biomedical Imaging (virtual), Cell Transplantation (in-person), and Molecular Techniques (virtual). In these courses this year, students learned the techniques used to grow cells/tissues, evaluate native and engineered tissue structure, perform micro-surgerical procedures to induce rodent disease models and test cell therapies, and learn fundamental molecular techniques, such as DNA amplification, nucleic acid isolation, and cloning. In addition to these laboratory-intensive courses, the core coursework also included a quarterly Seminar, a seminar-style Principles of Stem Cell Biology course, and an activity course in Communicating Biology. Through this coursework, students learn both the theoretical knowledge and practical skills that are important for regenerative medicine and gain important preparation for their internship projects.
Before embarking on their internship, students finish their training with a capstone project. The capstone project challenges students to apply the knowledge and skills gained through the coursework to an open-ended project. This allows the students to complete and receive feedback on a project with a report and presentation before embarking on a rigorous 9-month project that culminates in an extensive report and presentation. Examples of projects from the twelfth cohort include evaluating the impact of 3D cell culture on adults stem cell proliferation and maturation, optimizing the differentiation of equine induced pluripotent stem cells into neural lineages, and developing vascularized tumor organoids for drug screening.
After completing their coursework, our studenst begin their internship with one of our partners, listed above. Our internship partners provide a wide variety of project opportunities for our students, from fundamental biological studies in academic labs to device engineering at for-profit companies, and encompass several of the major physiological systems- immune, hematopoietic, neural, respiratory, and endocrine. Over the 9-month internship, students work full-time, live away from their home institution, and do not enroll in any formal coursework, so they can focus all of their efforts on the internship project.
In the first year of the Program, students read a memoir about surviving a heart attack/bypass, watched a movie about living with spinal muscle atrophy, and counted carbs like a diabetic for 2 days. They also participated in community events, such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association Muscle Walk. In the second year, students participated in a limited number of virtual engagement activities to gain an appreciation for the patient’s perspective of dealing with an unmet clinical need.