Cal State Northridge has received a $1.6 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state stem cell agency, to train undergraduate and graduate students for research careers in stem cell biology.

Specifically, the three-year grant will provide an opportunity through the CSUN-UCLA Bridges to Stem Cell Research Program for ten Northridge students each year of the grant-six graduate and four undergraduates-to intern with some of the world leaders in stem cell research at UCLA’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, assisting with research and working with the latest technologies in the rapidly emerging field of regenerative medicine.

 “There is no question that when these kids are done, they will be in high demand-whether they are interested in continuing their studies in academia or going out into the work place,” said biology professor Randy Cohen. “They are going to have a chance to work alongside world-class researchers with tomorrow’s technology.”

In addition to the internships, the CIRM grant will provide funding for a new course at CSUN in regenerative medicine that will be open to all Northridge students and the community. The course is expected to debut in about a year.

“We touch on regenerative medicine in our basic biology class,” said assistant professor of biology Cindy Malone, who is helping to coordinate the Bridges program. “The new course will give us an opportunity to really explore emerging issues in regenerative medicine and allow students across the campus and members of the community to explore the issues with us.”

Robert Klein, chair of CIRM’s governing board, said funding programs such as CSUN’s are an important step in ensuring that California has a well-trained stem cell workforce.

“Training is critical to our mission of developing new therapies,” he said. “During a time when the state is having to cut funding to higher education, our agency is bridging part of the gap, ensuring that highly qualified students receive the training they need to fill the high-tech stem cell research jobs of the future.”

The Bridges awards fund coursework and internships to prepare undergraduate and masters level students for careers in academic and industry stem cell laboratories.

Malone said she and Cohen will spend this winter getting the word out to students that the program has been funded and is accepting applications.

Once the first cohort has been selected, Malone and her colleagues in the biology department will make sure that they have taken the prerequisites, including a special laboratory skills class next summer, so they can hold their own in the Broad Stem Cell Research Center laboratories when they begin their internships-two semesters for the undergrads and a year for the graduate students-in the fall of 2010.

Neither she nor Cohen have any doubts that the CSUN students will do just fine assisting world-class researchers in the field of regenerative medicine at UCLA. “We have a long tradition here at CSUN of doing a very good job of giving our biology and biochemistry undergraduate students hands-on experience working in laboratories,” Cohen said.

Those students selected for Bridges internships will receive up to $5,000 toward their educational expenses, a monthly stipend of $2,500 and up to $3,000 to offset the cost of their supplies for their work at the host laboratory.

Though the CIRM grant funds only three cohorts of ten students during each of its three years, Cohen and Malone are hoping that it will be extended.

“Knowing the caliber of our students, there is no doubt in my mind that they will be in high demand,” Cohen said.

Malone added, “And once the word gets out among our students that this program is out there, they are going to be lining up to get in.”

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