The current submission for the Bridges to Stem Cell Research Awards describes a program that will support and enhance California-based stem cell research. The educational component of the program will raise general awareness of stem cell biology and introduce undergraduates to stem cell related issues and techniques that they would not have the opportunity to experience otherwise. The training program will produce a cadre of students that will be highly trained in the specialized techniques of a stem cell biologists. We will develop a program that allows students of biology to perform hands-on training in specialized techniques like fluorescent cell sorting of stem cells, genetic engineering of stem cells, genetic and biochemical characterization of stem cells and their derivatives, and transplantation of stem cells into models of neurological disease. Our interns will attend a CIRM-certified training course in human stem cell culture techniques before they are placed in a internship-host lab. We have a number of potential host labs that support our program and have agreed to accept our interns. The research projects available to our interns will have a significant impact on the advancement of stem cell biology and eventual translation to clinical therapies. We will have mentors for our interns at both the home institute and the host institute. Our advisory committee will be composed of active researches and administrators with substantial experience in extramural programs. Finally, our assessment program will be designed to evaluate the progress of the interns during the internship but will also track the interns honors, awards, publications, and career choices, to determine whether the goals of the Bridges Awards program are being met.
Statement of Benefit to California:
The current submission for the Bridges to Stem Cell Research Awards describes a program that will directly benefit the state of California in a number of ways. Our goal is to produce a cadre of highly trained researchers that are prepared to fill the emerging need of the stem cell-related biotechnology industry that is developing in California as a result of CIRM funding. Our student population is composed primarily of California residents and the state residency is predicted bias the talented interns to remain local. Our training program will have a wide range of techniques that will translate to a skilled workforce that could fill the needs of research institutes, biotechnology lab positions, and university research labs. Our auxiliary programs and courses will send students to stem cell conferences and meetings within California which will support the local institutes and organizations running those meetings. Ultimately, our program will be supporting the large investment that California voters committed to the development of stem cell research and will increase the chances of advances in this exciting research area.
Funding is requested for a Bridges internship program that will append an established undergraduate program in molecular and cellular biology. The existing program graduates 6 to 8 students per year, and the proposed internship component is expected to involve 2 or 3 upper-division undergraduate students per year. Four host institutions with a total of 12 laboratories in the area will house trainees to perform hands-on experiments in internships of 6-month duration. The courses associated with the proposed program cover the basics of stem cell biology and include a wide spectrum of molecular and cellular techniques using murine stem cells. Overall, reviewers felt that this was a very poorly written proposal, and they expressed serious concerns about the proposed program. Reviewers did consider the existing undergraduate biology major, upon which the Bridges program would be based, to be a strength of the proposal, since the basic curriculum could provide students with the necessary background to complete the proposed stem cell instructional modules. Despite this strength, a number of concerns significantly diminished reviewer enthusiasm. The pool of perspective trainees was considered too small to ensure participation of a critical mass of highly motivated and capable students. The description of student recruitment and assessment tools was judged to be superficial, as it failed to specify the types of tools that will be used, failed to clarify the assessment criteria, and failed to identify who will perform the evaluations. Similarly, reviewers felt that a pool of 12 host laboratories to accommodate up to 9 trainees over 3 years was insufficient to guarantee adequate opportunities and appropriate fits between interns and faculty mentors. Additionally, criteria for mentor selection were not detailed in the application. Furthermore, reviewers questioned whether a 6-month internship would provide enough time to accomplish any significant research, and there was concern that the substantial monthly written reports required of trainees would further diminish research time. The institutional commitment to this proposal was considered problematic. The letter provided by the home institution was extremely brief and lacked any detail of specific institutional contributions to the program. In addition, two of the four host institutions did not supply letters, raising concern about these partners’ commitment to participation. The Program Director is clearly enthusiastic about implementing the proposed program, but is a very junior Assistant Professor with a limited track record of research and training. It is unclear that he/she has the experience necessary to direct the proposed program. Reviewers felt that the Advisory Committee is composed of a good mix of experienced and junior faculty, but the roles described for this committee are minimal and, therefore, fail to compensate for the inexperience of the Program Director.