CIRM Invests $6M at SDSU and CSUSM to Train Next Generation of Stem Cell Scientists
News Release by Margaret Chantung
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) announced in January that California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) and San Diego State University (SDSU) will each receive $3,045,000 to continue the institutions’ Bridges to Stem Cell Research Internship Programs (BSCRIP). A total of $40.13 million was awarded by the CIRM Board for stem cell internship programs across 15 California State University campuses, including SDSU and CSUSM, for five more years.
BSCRIP places students in full 12-month internships with host laboratories throughout San Diego County to cultivate the next generation of young scientists and ensure that California remains at the forefront of stem cell discoveries aimed at helping patients with unmet needs. Participating students earn a stipend of $2,500 a month as well as their tuition paid in full by the grant up to $7,000. Participating labs also receive a small remuneration to offset any costs incurred.
Ralph Feuer, Ph.D., program director for the SDSU BSCRIP and associate professor in the Department of Biology explained, “Stem cell-based treatment strategies represent the future of medicine for patients suffering from chronic disease and injury. Continued progress in the development and administration of these new therapies not only require ongoing basic and translational research, but also a sustainable approach whereby the next generation of scientists and technicians build upon the initial success of previous scientific accomplishments.”
Academic coursework at their home institution is designed to teach BSCRIP students about stem cells including research, ethics and regulatory affairs. Other activities are also designed to provide students with direct patient engagement and outreach activities engaging California’s diverse communities. In the field, the students gain extensive hands-on training through a comprehensive lab-training course in basic cell culture and maintenance of stem cells as well as a 12-month research internship at local host institutions investigating human stem cell therapies and disease models.
Alex Mendoza is a first generation in college student at Cal State San Marcos currently interning at Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Carlsbad site through BSCRIP. She says that she has found the program to be not only rewarding but inspiring.
“Thanks to this program, I can put all of my energy and focus into being a scientist,” she said. “The skill sets I’m learning at Thermo Fisher Scientific—from hands-on experiment planning, to learning how to minimize errors and learn from my mistakes—is giving me a complete picture of what a career in stem cell research will be like.”
During the internship period, students attend research seminars, present their scientific progress at monthly colloquia to other students as well as participating host mentors and scientists, and present scientific posters at local and regional scientific meetings.
“We are fulfilling the industry’s demand for more trained stem cell researchers so, as a state, California can continue to be competitive in the field,” stated Bianca Mothé, Ph.D., the CSUSM BSCRIP program director, professor of Biological Sciences and associate dean of Undergraduate Studies. “This is also a great opportunity for Cal State San Marcos and San Diego State to strengthen partnerships with academic and biotech labs within the region.”
Dr. Feuer also indicted that “due to cuts in federal funding for research, biomedical students find the present environment to be a particularly challenging time to begin a scientific career. The BSCRIP program addresses both issues, financially supporting young scientists and providing internship opportunities as they get the experience they need to launch their biomedical career.”
“The goal of the Bridges program is to prepare undergraduate and Master’s level students in California for a successful career in stem cell research,” said Randal Mills, Ph.D., president and CEO of CIRM. “That’s not just a matter of giving them money, but also of giving them good mentors who can help train and guide them, of giving them meaningful engagement with patients and patient advocates, so they have a clear vision of the impact the work they are doing can have on people’s lives.”
Thermo Fisher Scientific has numerous programs to help educate and develop the next generation of stem cell scientists. Through the Gibco Education initiative, the company has developed many tools available to any stem cell researcher, including virtual training and conferences, protocol and resource handbooks, and an in-depth hands-on PSC training course.
“Thermo Fisher is pleased to support budding researchers in an effort to cultivate tomorrow’s leading scientists who will be responsible for the next great breakthroughs in the field of stem cells,” said Peter Silvester, president of the Biosciences business at Thermo Fisher. “We consider it an honor to play a role in teaching young researchers the foundational lab skills that will help them advance in their careers.”
Since 2009, San Diego State University has trained 62 students while Cal State San Marcos has trained 65, the majority of whom came from diverse backgrounds and are now working in biotech or academic research laboratories or attending professional programs in the field of regenerative medicine. Ten interns at each university are currently being trained through this program. CSUSM partners include MiraCosta College and Miramar College.