Training Program Leads to Successes in Regenerative Medicine

October 2, 2017

Former UCI postdoctoral fellow Dr. Kristine Freude recently visited the university to present her latest work. Now an Associate Professor in the Group of Stem Cells and Embryology in the Institute of Clinical Veterinary and Animal Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, Dr. Freude was one of the first recipients of a California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) training grant, awarded to train graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. A former postdoctoral fellow of Biological Sciences School Dean Frank M. LaFerla, Dr. Freude now works on stem cells from patients to study fronto-temporal dementia.

In addition to Dr. Freude’s presentation, other training grant alums, including our own Dr. Matthew Blurton-Jones and Dr. Munjal Acharya, also spoke that day. Drs. Blurton-Jones and Acharya are also trainees who have gone on to achieve great success. Dr. Acharya is an Assistant Professor in Residence in the department of Radiation Oncology at the School of Medicine, while Dr. Blurton-Jones was recently promoted to the rank of Associate Professor in the department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the Biological Sciences School. Each has established rigorous stem cell research programs, thanks in part to the opportunity they had through the CIRM training grant. Dr. Acharya focuses on developing new treatments for “chemobrain”, the effect caused by treating cancer patients with irradiation or chemotherapy, while Dr. Blurton-Jones focuses his attention on Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Several years ago, California started its great experiment in public funding of science and created CIRM. CIRM’s goals were to train the next generation of scientists in this rapidly emerging field, and to develop a diverse workforce across a wide range of disciplines. Some of the first grants awarded were training grants.

The Biological Sciences School’s Developmental and Cell Biology Professor Peter Bryant, together with his School of Medicine colleagues, Dr. Ping Wang and Dr. Sid Golub, developed a training program designed to address the basic science of stem cells, clinical application of the cells and the ethical, legal and social implications of stem cell research. A few years later, when Dr. Bryant handed the reigns of the training program to his colleague, Dr. Peter Donovan, also from the Department of Developmental and Cell Biology, the program expanded to train more grad students and postdocs, and to add clinical fellows.

Now, some 11 years after the award of that first grant, we can see the results of all those efforts in trainees like Drs. Acharya, Blurton-Jones, and Freude. Some have argued that the training programs were amongst the most successful grant programs developed by CIRM. Certainly, the UCI program has provided strong evidence to support that idea. The seeds planted here seem to be growing well. Like the giant redwoods growing elsewhere on the campus, it seems likely the grand experiment started here at UCI will last a long, long time.