Stem cells are the seeds that grow our hearts, brains, lungs, intestines—every one of the body’s tissues and organs. By studying stem cells and their potential to replace damaged or dysfunctional cells, researchers are gaining knowledge to better understand diseases and develop new treatments, including for many common childhood conditions.
Researchers at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles have long been at the forefront of stem cell and regenerative medicine discoveries. Now, with $5 million in funding from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), they will create a five-year training program for promising young scientists interested in this field. The program will begin December 1, 2021.
“Stem cell and regenerative medicine research is the future of medicine,” said Ching-Ling (Ellen) Lien, Director of the Heart Regeneration Research Laboratory at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Director of the hospital’s CIRM Training Program. “If you don’t do solid research now, you cannot expect progress. We hope the training program will lead to research that will transition into clinical trials and, eventually, treatments for patients.”
Each year, the CIRM Training Program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles will recruit six PhD post-doctoral fellows and three MD clinical fellows who will be taught everything they need to know to conduct stem cell and regenerative medicine research. The training period and appointment for each trainee will be two years. Fellows selected for the program will receive:
- Research Project Support: Fellows who are already working in a lab at The Saban Research Institute who are selected for the program will continue their research projects. Newly recruited fellows will select a mentor and work with that expert to create a hypothesis-driven research project.
- Education: In addition to conducting research, CIRM scholars will take courses on the ethical, legal and social implications of stem cell research and regenerative medicine, as well as the principles of developmental biology and the application of stem cell and regenerative medicine to health and disease. Scholars will have the opportunity to take workshops in stem cell handling and culturing, biostatistics, translating research into treatments and scientific writing.
- Mentorship and Career Development: CIRM scholars will gain research and career advice from a pool of mentors with expertise in both basic and clinical science. Each scholar will work one-on-one with a mentor who will guide the scholar through every phase of a research project.
Tracy Grikscheit, MD, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Surgery and Principal Investigator at The Saban Research Institute, and Mark Frey, PhD, Director of the Developmental Biology and Regenerative Medicine Research Program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, will serve as Associate Directors of the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles CIRM Training Program.
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has been training stem cell scientists for many years. A previous CIRM program trained 23 PhD postdoctoral fellows and nine MD fellows. According to Dr. Lien, stem cell transplantations seem to be especially promising in children and have already been used to treat children with blood cancers and blood diseases.
“Children are still growing and developing and their bodies potentially also have better intrinsic capacity to regenerate,” Dr. Lien said. “For congenital diseases and injuries, it is possible that transplanted stem cells might engraft and incorporate better in children than in adults.”