Training Program in Stem Cell Research

Training Program in Stem Cell Research

Funding Type: 
Research Training II
Grant Number: 
TG2-01153
Award Value: 
$7,941,728
Status: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Our goal is to continue the Type I CIRM-funded Comprehensive Training Program that was established at this institution nearly 3 years ago. Specifically, we want to support 6 graduate students, 6 postdoctoral (Ph.D.) fellows, and 4 clinician-scientists (M.D. and or Ph.D.). We provide a unique training environment for students at all levels who are pursuing careers in regenerative medicine. Specifically, our institution offers a world-class research training experience in the context of an equally prestigious medical school and clinical enterprise. We are also noted for our faculty, a diverse and talented group of individuals—1,500 full-time members who are renowned for their dedication to the training process. Additionally, this institution has a long history of supporting human embryonic stem cell research within a framework of the highest ethical standards of conduct. In this productive research environment, our regenerative medicine institute fosters work toward regenerative medicine therapies. The regenerative medicine institute has 7 pipelines that are designed to promote the development of cell-based therapies for repair/regeneration of cardiovascular, neural, pancreas and liver, hematopoietic, musculoskeletal, epithelial, and reproductive tissues. Each pipeline integrates the research of numerous investigators who are working together to translate basic research discoveries into clinically viable therapies. The pipelines are supported by programs that cut across several disciplines, including Human Embryonic Stem Cells, Cancer, Immunology, Genetics, and Bioengineering. Regenerative medicine institute research is supported by key technology core facilities. Additionally, we were awarded a grant to build and run a CIRM Shared Laboratory and Teaching Facility that will be an important resource for our trainees and a CIRM Major Facilities Award that will allow consolidation and expansion of stem cell-related activities in a new building. With regard to campus-wide events, the regenerative medicine institute sponsors many well-attended series, including regularly scheduled seminars, journal clubs, a young-faculty forum, and an annual retreat. These events take place against a backdrop of stimulating activities with similar formats in other programs that cover cutting-edge research developments in the U.S. and around the world. In this context, CIRM trainees at this university will have several different types of learning experiences that include formal courses in stem cell biology and related topics such as human development and cell biology. Ethical issues will be addressed in a course that is solely devoted to this topic. Trainees will also do research with world-class mentors who focus on transforming basic research discoveries into clinical applications. Thus, this university provides an exceptional and exciting environment for trainees who will be the next generation of leaders in the field of regenerative medicine.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
We envision that the citizens of the state of California will benefit in many ways from continuing this institution’s Comprehensive Training Program for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows (Ph.D.), and clinician-scientists (M.D. and/or Ph.D.). Collectively, the basic research, translational strategies, and clinical therapies that will emerge from the work of this university’s California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM)-funded trainees will be an important stimulus to the state economy, particularly the biotechnology sector and associated medical enterprises. Additionally, specific groups of individuals will directly benefit from work that is focused on cell-based therapies for repairing tissues and organs whose damage leads to common medical conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, paralysis and/or immune dysfunction. On the way to achieving the CIRM’s ultimate goals in terms of novel regenerative therapies for patients, we envision that numerous other benefits will emerge. For example, human embryonic stem cell (hESC) systems are powerful tools for unraveling the molecular bases of human development, which remain largely a black box. A fundamental lack of understanding regarding the mechanisms that give rise to the hundreds of cell types that form tissues and organs makes it extremely difficult to discern why these processes sometimes go awry, leading to birth defects and/or setting the stage for many diseases. Additionally, it is likely that novel therapies for other medical conditions will emerge. In this regard, some forms of cancer are now thought to be associated with the proliferation of stem cells that carry mutations in genes that promote their self-renewal rather than differentiation and integration into the compartment that they normally occupy. Other important applications include drug development. For example, hESCs and their differentiated progeny could be used to screen lead compounds for efficacy, safety and/or toxicity. Where will the workforce come from that will enable this revolution in how the medical establishment approaches patient care? Given the fact that hESCs were first described just 10 years ago, this is a very young field that must be rapidly populated with scientists and clinicians who are specially trained in all aspects of regenerative medicine, a new specialty. This necessity makes the funding of CIRM-sponsored training programs especially critical for institutions such as ours that have the ability to make important research discoveries and translate them into clinical therapies. In this regard, our university has a long and distinguished history of training leaders in science and/or medicine who easily traverse the boundaries between academia and industry. Our past successes strongly suggest that our CIRM-funded training programs will be equally successful. Accordingly, we expect that our trainees will become leaders in the field.
Progress Report: 

Year 1

This training grant is a very valuable asset to a broad range of UCSF programs. The resources that are made available to our Scholars enrich graduate education and the training experiences of the postdoctoral and clinical fellows that are supported under this mechanism. A description of the various components of our training program follows. The process of securing a CIRM-sponsored fellowship at UCSF is very competitive. We work extremely hard to make sure that open positions are widely advertised to our various constituencies. These include the many graduate groups, the departments with which they are affiliated and the clinical training programs. Announcements are made through several routes including LISTSERVES and in person at seminars, journal clubs, workshops and retreats. We know that a strong, fair and open application process is key to recruiting truly outstanding trainees. One aspect is making sure the applicants have sufficient time to prepare outstanding proposals. Therefore, the announcement of vacant positions is made at least four weeks before the application due date. The proposal has several components, including a three-page research plan, a mentor training plan/letter and biographical sketches from the applicant and his/her Principal Investigator. We ask for two additional reference letters from individuals who know the prospective Fellow well, and can make detailed comments about their past accomplishments and future potential. A committee consisting of UCSF scientists, who broadly represent the major stem cell research pipelines at this university, reviews the applications. Two individuals provide written critiques and scorers for each application. Thus, we use objective criteria to choose the Scholars. Our trainees take advantage of the numerous and varied stem cell-related activities that are sponsored by this program and available at UCSF. This year we started a new activity, CIRM Scholar Lunches. These meetings are designed to bring the pre-doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows and clinical fellows that this training grant supports together with the leadership of the program. We allot time for general discussions and to cover special topics. During the past year the latter included ethical issues in stem cell biology, careers in the biotechnology sector, obtaining venture capital for start-ups, licensing and patenting. The Scholars also attend local, national and international meetings. The CIRM annual meeting is a popular event that brings them together with trainees and their mentors from other universities. This is a valuable opportunity for scientific interchange and networking. Many also attend the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, which is an exciting opportunity to meet the thought leaders in many branches of stem cell science. The other meetings they attend are usually more specialized, focusing on their particular areas of research. At UCSF they take advantage of many retreats that are held annually. Examples include those that are sponsored by the Biomedical Sciences Program, The Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program and the Program in Biomedical Sciences. They also attend lectures that are part of the 11 regular seminar series at this university. Some are entirely focused on topics in stem cell biology and others include speakers who work in the field. The Scholars also participate in Journal Clubs, where exciting new publications are discussed and in Workshops, where they have an opportunity to present work in progress and receive feedback from the students, fellows and faculty who attend. They also take formal courses or audit these offerings. Some are specially designed for stem cell trainees such as Developmental and Stem Cell Biology, which integrates fundamental concepts in these fields. They also take the one-week Stem Cell Biology course that is offered by the UCSF CIRM Shared Lab and Teaching Facility, which has both a lecture in the laboratory component. They also participate in a course that addresses ethical issues in stem cell biology research. On an individual basis they attend more specialized courses that are specially tailored to their fields of study. Program administration is directed by the Principal Investigator and the Co-Principal Investigator, Dr. Robert Blelloch, a physician and scientist. A strong oversight committee, consisting of prominent UCSF stem cell scientists, helps manage this important resource. A talented staff handles financial and other administrative aspects of the training grant. In summary, we have designed a training program with maximal benefits to our CIRM Scholars. As a group, they have gone on to many types of careers in the stem cell sciences. They have taken jobs in the biotechnology sector and in academia. We think that their training experiences at UCSF have given them a very strong foundation on which to build successful careers.

© 2013 California Institute for Regenerative Medicine