Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stem Cell Training Ending at California State Colleges?

CIRM video on the Bridges program

California’s $3 billion stem cell research effort is turning ever more strongly in the direction of pushing stem cell treatments into the clinic, raising concerns among some about at least one program that appears endangered.

It is the $17.5 million “Bridges” training project that involved 11 state and community colleges, schools where advanced research does not usually take place.

Once lauded by top officials of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known, the Bridges program was aimed at expanding the number of trained personnel and providing a way for trainees to connect with stem cell labs in academia and industry.

In 2009, when the program was funded, Robert Klein, then chairman of the stem cell agency, said,
 “Training young people is critical to our mission of developing new therapies. As California’s stem cell industry continues to grow the state will face a critical shortage for biomedical laboratory workers trained in state-of-the-art techniques required by stem cell research labs. People who graduate from our Bridges programs will be ready to fill these positions and help California industry and academic labs maintain momentum in their search for cures.”
Earlier this month, Susan Baxter, executive director of the California State University’s system-wide program for biotechnology, warned that unless the board extends the program, the agency “will lose significant momentum in its efforts to build and inspire a professional stem-cell-related workforce in California.”

She said,
“The number one workforce need in this industry is hands-on practice and participation in multi-disciplinary, team-based research projects.  Research experience is baked into the Bridges program; as a result, graduates have many career options.  Despite the Great Recession, Bridges graduates have succeeded in landing jobs and gaining admittance to graduate and medical schools at much higher rates than peer groups.”
Baxter asked that the board review and consider extending the Bridges program at its meeting late next month.

Her remarks came as the agency is aiming its cash at clinical trials and activities leading to clinical trials, all of which requires large sums. Some of the agency’s earlier programs will necessarily be discontinued as the money shrinks.

The agency previously said funds for new awards will run out in 2017. However, after examining the agency’s financing assumptions, Randy Mills, CIRM’s new president, says the cash will last until about 2020.

For the schools involved in the Bridges program see the list at the end of the press release here. For those not familiar with California's higher education structure, the colleges listed are not part of the University of California system and generally do not award Ph.D. degrees.

Here is the text of Baxter’s remarks to the CIRM board on Sept. 10.

1 comment:

  1. I don't understand why CIRM is dismantling the infrastructure for stem cell research that it created in California. We've been the envy of stem cell researchers worldwide- able to start with research and take it to the clinic.

    Earlier this year, then-president Alan Trounson demanded that the Shared Labs and Training Centers be closed, after CIRM invested more than $20 million in state of the art equipment to establish the best stem cell laboratories in the country.

    Closing of these labs means that there will be nowhere to teach the Bridges students if the program is renewed. My lab has been giving 10-day laboratory courses in stem cell biology for 4 of the 11 Bridges universities for 6 years; we've trained more than 300 students.

    I think it's a tragic loss to mothball the equipment and shut down the training labs just when work in those labs is leading to the cures that are CIRM's mission. Some of our best-trained stem cell researchers are losing their jobs, just when they are most needed.

    Is there a solution? I don't have the power to stem these losses, but the ICOC does. I only can ask that they consider the consequences carefully.


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