Nobel prize winners don’t come out of thin air, they were all young, impressionable kids at one point in time. If you ask any award-winning scientists how they got into science research, many of them would likely tell you about an inspiring teacher, an encouraging parent, or a hands-on research opportunity that inspired or helped them to pursue a scientific career.
Not every student is lucky enough to have one of these experiences, and many students, especially those from low income families, might never be exposed to good science or have the opportunity to pursue a career as a scientist.
CIRM is changing this for students in California by committing a significant portion of its funds to educating and training future stem cells scientists.
Yesterday, the Board approved over $42 million to fund two of CIRM’s educational programs, the Bridges to Stem Cell Research and Therapy Awards (Bridges) and the Summer Program to Accelerate Regenerative Medicine Knowledge (SPARK).
Bridging the Stem Cell Gap
The Bridges program supports undergraduate and master’s level students by providing paid research internships at California universities or colleges that don’t have a major stem cell research program. This program has evolved over the past seven years since it began, and now includes training and education courses in stem cell research, and direct patient engagement and outreach activities within California’s diverse communities.
CIRM’s president, Randy Mills explained in a press release:
“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. 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.”
Chairman of the CIRM Board, Jonathan Thomas, added:
“The Bridges program has been incredibly effective in giving young people, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, a shot at a career in science. Of the 700 students who have completed the program, 95 percent are either working in a lab, enrolled in school or applying to graduate school. Without the Bridges program this kind of career might have been out of reach for many of these students.”
The CIRM Board voted to approve $40.13 million for the Bridges program, which will fund 14 programs at California state universities and city colleges. Each program will be able to support ten students for five years.
SPARKing Interest in Stem Cells
The SPARK program supports summer research internships for high school students that represent the diversity of the state’s population. It evolved from an earlier educational program called Creativity, and now emphasizes community outreach, direct patient engagement activities, and social media training along with training in stem cell research techniques.
“SPARK is all about helping cultivate high school students who are interested in science, and showing them it’s possible to have a career doing something they love,” said Randy Mills.
The Board approved $2.31 million for the SPARK program, which will provide California institutions funding support for five to ten students each year. Seven programs received funding including the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, UC San Francisco, UC Davis, Cedars-Sinai, City of Hope, USC and Stanford.
Training the Next Generation
For years, national leaders, including President Obama, have warned that without skilled, experienced researchers, the U.S. is in danger of losing its global competitiveness in science. But cuts in federal funding for research mean this is a particularly challenging time to begin a scientific career.
Our goal with the Bridges and SPARK programs is to address both these issues and support young scientists as they get the experience they need to launch their careers.