The University of California San Francisco (UCSF) was funded to establish a CIRM Shared Laboratory and Teaching Facility. This effort was extremely successful. We supported the research efforts of more than 150 investigators and taught courses to over 300 students at all levels from undergraduates to postdoctoral and clinical fellows. We think that our efforts constituted a major contribution to achieving CIRM’s mission of delivering cures.
The scope of work that took place in our Shared Laboratory Facility was broad and deep. Our investigators have made major contributions to key research areas. For example, some of the researchers worked on the most basic aspects of human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, which have the potential to differentiate into all the cell types in the body. The questions they asked included how do they make perfect copies of themselves? What are their special properties as compared to mature cells? Other investigators worked on differentiating human embryonic and induced stem cells down specific pathways. They included cells of the pancreas that malfunction in diabetes and the cells of the brain that go awry in conditions such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. Another area that was well represented was liver biology, an important field of investigation since the only remedy for failure is transplantation of a donor organ. Bone biology was another major focus as was studying pluripotent stem cells in relationship to the normal development of blood cells and diseases of these cells that are caused by inherited defects in the DNA. Finally, several investigators studied the role of stem cells in various cancers.
From its inception, two senior faculty members directed the Shared Laboratory. They were assisted by a scientist who is an expert in human embryonic stem cell biology. Together the leadership team established systems that helped our users work efficiently in the Shared Laboratory. For example, we set up a recharge system that enabled investigators to buy supplies that they routinely used at a reduced rate because we purchased the items in bulk quantities.
We also purchased specialized equipment that our users found very valuable. These items included microscopes for observing cells as they grew in the lab. Of these the most sophisticated has the ability to make time-lapse videos so the cells could be monitored over extended periods of time. Another piece of equipment that is heavily used enabled analysis and separation of cells according to their molecular profiles. The Shared Laboratory also served as a central location for demonstrating new scientific equipment that is of potential use to stem cell biologists. Finally, we housed equipment that was purchased by other mechanisms, which enabled easy access for our users. One example was a workstation for high throughput assessment of the effects of a large number of compounds on cells.
Our Shared Laboratory also had a teaching component that was very successful.
During the final year of funding, we taught three courses. The students were from a variety of institutions including San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco, Berkeley City College, Humboldt State University and UCSF. The mornings were devoted to lectures, which were given by experts in particular areas of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. The goal of the initial lectures was to provide a foundation of knowledge in human embryology on which to build basic concepts in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. When possible we tailored the rest of the topics to the specific interests of the students. The lecturers were UCSF professors who are experts in their fields. The topics that we covered were relevant to many disorders that are the target of stem cell therapies, including diabetes and other chronic diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and cardiovascular) as well as several forms of cancer.
The afternoons consisted of hands-on laboratories. We taught the students many useful methods. First and foremost they learned how to grow human embryonic stem cells in the laboratory. As part of this process they became familiar with how the cells look when they are healthy and growing well. They also learned methods that are typically used to study the cells. As part of this process they received training in the specialized equipment that our CIRM Shared Laboratory housed.
In general, students rated our course more highly each year. An important part of our success was that we made every effort to stay in contact with our graduates. Throughout the course we emphasized the fact that we were here as a resource for them as they move forward in their scientific careers. In fact, many of them contacted us for technical advice and other sorts of information long after they had graduated. Although hard to quantify, we feel that this is another important measure of the effectiveness of our program.