Funding opportunities

Stem Cell [REDACTED] Alliance - A higher education collaboration providing workforce training to meet the needs in stem cell research and regenerative medicine in [REDACTED] and beyond

Funding Type: 
Grant Number: 
Funds requested: 
$1 557 369
Funding Recommendations: 
Not recommended
Grant approved: 
Public Abstract: 
The success of stem cell research towards regenerative therapies relies on the training of a highly skilled workforce with specialized education in stem cell biology and biotechnology. The laboratory personnel needed to support current and future stem cell research centers within California requires a broad spectrum of workers with varying degrees of academic and internship training. Additionally, an ethnically diverse stem cell workforce is needed to reflect the diversity that comprises the progressive state of California. To achieve these goals, we propose a multi-institutional collaborative program that establishes clearly articulated academic pathways that involve the training of the highest caliber students at varying levels of educational degree attainment through the partnering institutions. These pathway options include an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree, Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Biology or Bioengineering, Certificate in Human Genetics and Regenerative Medicine, or a Masters of Science (M.S.) in Biology. Each academic pathway will culminate in a 12-month intensive internship at a major stem cell research laboratory within the state of California. The training associated with each degree level differs as appropriate for the skills sets required for different positions needed in stem cell laboratories. A.S. internships involve hands-on training in sterile cell culture, preparation of small rodents for surgeries and tissue transplantation, and basic molecular biology techniques. B.S. internships add advanced mouse and human embryonic stem cell culture, and characterization of stem cells using cellular and molecular techniques. Bioengineering interns will design, develop, and use novel tools used for stem cell differentiation and study of cell behavior. Certificate interns will have advanced training in clinical aspects of human diseases and research methods. M.S. interns will learn all skills listed in A.S. and B.S. internship programs, but will be expected to advance faster and achieve independence quickly. All participating students must also complete two courses: 1) Stem Cell Techniques course will be an intensive laboratory based course providing training on essential skills necessary for laboratory studies using human and mouse stem cell samples; 2) Science and Ethics of Stem Cell, a lower division general education course with a focus on the science of stem cell biology and the host of ethical issues raised by the technology and its applications. This course will be developed as an online course with open enrollment to all students, raising the awareness of stem cell issues to a greater audience. With the infusion of a highly skilled workforce provided through the success of this program, the productivity of the existing stem cell laboratories will increase and an expansion of the field in general will be supported by the availability of a strong employment pool of well trained workers.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Through higher education and trainee internships funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), students will be equipped with necessary experience to enter the stem cell research workforce. Students engaged in different levels of education, ranging from an Associate Degree to a Master of Science, will be included in this program as each level provides unique skill sets vital to an effective workforce. Recruitment and participation of individuals underrepresented in the sciences is a high priority for this program. Developing a human resource that represents the diversity of California will raise the level of stem cell research and engage populations that may otherwise by absent. This increase of highly trained individuals in stem cell research techniques will have a direct, profound, and lasting impact on the health and well being of citizens of California. All intern trainees will receive dedicated guidance by a team of faculty to mentor these students into highly proficient researchers prepared to enter field of stem cell research. Through faculty mentorship, students who may not have otherwise considered continuing on to pursue a post-baccalaureate or doctoral degree will be encouraged to consider that pathway. This anticipated growth of individuals holding advanced degrees in the sciences—especially among underrepresented populations—will provide an immediate and compounding benefit to the state of California, paving the way for future generations. The program will positively impact our region’s current and projected need for a workforce trained in the sciences. California’s major metropolitan centers and surrounding areas have greater access to higher education programs and associated internship opportunities in the sciences, and more specifically, to opportunities related to stem cell research due to private industry prevalence. CIRM funding will provide vital resources to our region—a region with comparatively less opportunity—thus enabling area students to gain valuable research and educational experiences in this field of industry. Regional growth and development of the biotechnology industry, which includes stem cell research, is a priority of at least two multiple-county collaboratives. One collaborative was commissioned by the Governor to address critical issues facing our region. The other collaborative is more specifically focused on identifying biotech workforce issues confronting the existing industry, while coordinating training and educational needs to secure a skilled workforce for the industry. This proposed program is well-aligned with the priorities identified by these collaboratives. Through the proposed program, our consortium will address the current staffing needs of local laboratories and provide a capable, talented workforce to attract and retain biotech firms to the region in the future.
Review Summary: 
This application proposes a program that will join three partnering institutions to offer 12-month internship training to students pursuing associate, B.S. and M.S. degrees. The program will offer courses at all three home institutions and provide opportunities for internships at three research-intensive universities. Reviewers noted several strengths in this proposal including multiple paths tailored to train students at each of the associate, bachelor and master degree levels. Reviewers appreciated the involvement of an industry representative on the advisory committee and a clear delineation of skills to be acquired by the 3 levels of students to be served by this program. Reviewers also noted the existence of educational enhancement activities beyond the standard journal clubs and a yearly symposium including networking with industry representatives, field trips to biotech research facilities, quarterly informal meetings between interns, advisory committee members and intern mentors. Each intern will be assigned a faculty mentor at the home institution who will be in contact with the trainees at least once per week for the duration of the internship. Despite these strengths, reviewers felt that the overall program lacked cohesiveness, the internship was poorly described, and the expected outcomes of the internship were unclear. There is no description of what will be required of the interns in their host labs or how skills required by the three levels of students will be attained. The faculty at the host institutions who will be involved was not described. Although the stem cell techniques course will be offered at three different campuses, there is no standardization in the skill to be acquired by trainees at these sites. It was also not clear whether students would acquire lab experience prior to the internship beyond that acquired in standard lab class work. Although the application lists many skills and topics for each level of intern, it is not clear if the students will be integrating into the host laboratory’s research activities or rather learning techniques in courses offered at those sites. Two courses are in development for this program including a Science and Ethics of Stem Cells that will be delivered online at a level appropriate to the degree program of the participant. Stem Cell Techniques will be completed prior to the internship, also delivered in a modular way according to the academic standing of the student. It was not apparent to reviewers who will teach these courses. A reviewer noted that these courses provide the only element of cohesiveness of the 10-member student cohort, but since they are not all required to take the same components it is unclear whether cohesiveness can be achieved or whether students will feel like members of the same program. A particular concern is whether the needs of the students at different educational levels can be met in courses and internships. This training program brings together three institutions into an alliance that is to be the primary mechanism for providing internships to students. The Vice Provost at the applicant institution appears enthusiastic about the program and will seek additional funding to sustain the program. Letters from partnering institutions are rather generic and do not offer any specifics. The advisory committee includes deans from the three home institutions, but beyond this, there is no real indication of institutional commitment. The program director, who will contribute 33% effort to the program administration, brings experience as Associate Director of the Master of Science Program in Genetic Counseling at the applicant institution. Reviewers felt that the administrative structure for this program is minimal and does not reflect a commitment from the participating institutions. An advisory board that will meet twice annually to evaluate the program provides program oversight. A reviewer commented that this does not seem frequently enough to identify and correct problems in a 12-month internship. Overall, reviewers thought that the proposed program was attempting to mix too many elements into the training with a poor structure to support it.

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