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$3.045M Grant Supports Research

Published: April 18, 2016

Undergraduate, post-baccalaureate and master’s students in the CSULB biotechnology program will be trained in the theory and techniques of stem cell research thanks to a new $3.045 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The training will prepare students to enter the California workforce with long-term career opportunities as stem cell researchers.

“The new CIRM grant will support patient engagement activities to help students focus on the fact there is an urgency to stem cell research and we need to accelerate the development of drugs and treatments,” said Lisa Klig, a professor of molecular genetics at CSULB, who oversees the program with developmental biology professor Elizabeth Eldon. “Research can take on a timeline of its own, but when you interact with somebody who has a disease it makes you want to cure it in their lifetime.”

Some of those debilitating illnesses include such neurodegenerative diseases as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as blindness (macular degeneration). More than half a million Americans are affected by Parkinson’s at any given time and approximately 5.3 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. Also, it is estimated that 18 million individuals will suffer from macular degeneration by 2050. Other potential uses of stem cell therapy could be for individuals affected by stroke, brain and spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, cancer, baldness, arthritis, deafness and even missing teeth.

Between 30 and 40 students enroll in the two-year stem cell track of the post-baccalaureate Biotechnology Certificate Program at CSULB, with the first year consisting of coursework and laboratory research which is supported by extensive mentoring. To help accelerate the advancement of therapies, coursework includes an exploration of the drug development process and regulatory pathway. Undergraduates are allowed to participate in the program while concurrently working towards their bachelor’s degree, which they must complete in order to receive a certificate.

During the second year, 10 students from that group will be selected for an internship to perform full-time, paid research in one of more than 30 stem cell laboratories at Cedars-Sinai, City of Hope and UC Irvine. Their research will then contribute to scientific publications and clinical trials.

As part of their training, those 10 interns will engage in activities at Children’s Hospital Orange County and with representatives from the VA Long Beach Healthcare System to directly interact with patients in an effort to gain a close-up view of their perspectives and experiences. In addition, interns will participate in three types of community outreach and education activities—1) Educating individuals through the use of social media; 2) Discussing research with a diverse academic population at a symposium; and 3) Having direct contact with community leaders and the general public through panel presentations for a local leadership program, at community colleges and with current high school biology teachers in science education classes at CSULB.

–Shayne Schroeder