Funding opportunities

CSUN-UCLA Bridges to Stem Cell Research

Funding Type: 
Grant Number: 
Principle Investigator: 
Funds requested: 
$1 604 720
Funding Recommendations: 
Recommended if funds allow
Grant approved: 
Public Abstract: 
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Review Summary: 
This is a proposal to train ten undergraduate or master’s level students in basic and translational stem cell science. Students will complete a series of basic biology and laboratory courses at the home institution, and will then be placed in a research laboratory at a host institution for 9 months to 1 year. Over 40 laboratories at the host institution will be available for student fellowships. During their research fellowship, the students will attend meetings, seminar series and lectures on stem cell research, including a weekly seminar series on stem cell biology with one-page graded reports. Students will also attend activities at the host laboratory, including weekly lab meetings, and will be paired with senior lab personnel. An important strength of this application is the excellent hands-on training that will occur in host laboratories. Some of this will occur through assignment of CIRM trainees to a specific supervisor (either a graduate student or senior fellow) to allow for ongoing daily supervision in the laboratory. Interns will also have access to state-of-the-art core facilities. Duration could be an issue for the undergraduate trainees as their training will be limited to 9 months. Oversight mechanisms are excellent. Host labs are mandated to engage in weekly interactions with the intern and host PI, either alone or in the context of lab meetings. Host faculty will also provide written one page quarterly evaluations based on the trainee’s progress in the lab. Criteria will include presentations made at group meetings and participation in the biweekly Stem Cell Club. Auxiliary training activities include the weekly stem cell biology seminar series, pertinent seminars from a program on society and genetics, and an annual one-day stem cell symposium featuring internationally renowned stem cell scientists. Most impressive is the requirement for trainees to submit written summaries of the weekly noon stem cell seminar series. In addition to these strengths, reviewers identified several weaknesses with this training program. First, little or no description was provided for how the training plans will differ between undergraduate and master’s level students. Second, no formal course in stem cell techniques is required. Students are expected to acquire skills at their host labs, and a training course at a neighboring institution is available but not required. Reviewers commented that this would lead to a lack of standardization in material to be covered. One reviewer was particularly concerned since, while the bulk of the host training faculty are professors with established and accomplished programs, several are assistant professors who are at the beginning of their research careers and might not have adequate mentoring experience. This reviewer would have felt more comfortable if the program had taken measures to ensure appropriate mentoring. A third weakness identified in this application was that there are no outreach programs are in place. Finally, reviewers were concerned that the path for integration of coursework and internship are not clearly described. They indicated that the failure to describe important aspects of the training program made it difficult to assess its merit. The institutional commitment was considered strong. Although a letter of support from the institution did not contain any specifics, it was supportive of the program director and of the program overall. A letter from a dean provides much more detail, including commitment of faculty time for teaching, space for the tissue culture lab, and $500 for each student to travel to national conferences. The partnering institution plans to augment the CIRM award with additional direct support to laboratories hosting CIRM Bridge students, although the amount and extent of support was not specified. Overall, reviewers felt that both institutions were supportive of the training program. The program director has a strong training record, mentoring over 50 students in research and participating in several institutional training programs including the NSF/Howard Hughes Institute Workshop for Pre-College Teachers. Over the last 12 years, the PD has also been active in bringing science to local schools and student groups, underscoring a commitment to outreach activities. Unfortunately, the PD only commits 1% time to this program, and lists a Co-PD who is a very junior assistant professor with 3 years of experience. In spite of this junior status reviewers were positive about the Co-PD. The Co-PD trained at a lab at the partnering institution, and reviewers commented that knowledge of the researchers and culture of this partnering institution could be helpful to the student interns. Reviewers were very supportive of the advisory committee, which includes program coordinators of several NIH-sponsored minority student programs. Overall, reviewers felt that this was a strong program that lacked a few key components, such as a core stem cell course and a clearer description of the program itself.

© 2013 California Institute for Regenerative Medicine