Cal State, community colleges propose $31M stem cell worker program

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San Francisco Business Times

The California State University and California Community Colleges systems outlined a five-year, $30.87 million plan Wednesday to train students for jobs coming out of the state’s $3 billion stem cell research program.

CSU Chancellor Charles Reed told members of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine’s Independent Citizen Oversight Committee that the program could train 4,000 people in basic stem cell research or product development and expose another 500,000 people to advances in stem cell research.

“The leadership of CIRM needs to invest in science infrastructure just as much as facilities,” Reed said moments before CIRM considered whether to solicit applications for its highest-profile program, $227 million in major facilities grants.

Susan Baxter, executive director of a Cal State program that develops workers for the biotech industry, said the stem cell worker-training program would cost $7,500 per student over the five years.

College leaders said their program also would reach minority and disadvantaged students, a large segment of the populations of the 23 Cal State campuses and 114 community colleges.

But some CIRM oversight committee members — and at least one taxpayer advocate — suggested that CIRM may not be the appropriate pot of money for the program.

CIRM was created by voter approval in 2004 of Prop. 71, which called for the state to sell bonds to fund stem-cell research.

Though there are federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, said CIRM member John Reed, the president and CEO of The Burnham Institute in San Diego, there are no federal prohibitions against training workers for stem cell jobs. He also questioned how deep the training would reach.

“You can learn how to manipulate a culture with two to four weeks of training,” he said.

John Simpson, of the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, said the college systems’ proposal may not fit what voters intended for CIRM. “I’m not sure that plan is, ‘Here’s $30.8 million and go forth,'” he said.

Overall, however, the proposal received high marks from CIRM officials for its vision. Extending awareness of regenerative medicine into the general college population has “staggering potential,” said CIRM member Dr. Janet Wright.

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein appointed members David Serrano Sewell — a graduate of San Francisco State University — and Marcy Feit, president and CEO of ValleyCare Health Systems to meet with Cal State and community college officials.

The Cal State system includes Cal State East Bay in Hayward, San Francisco State University and Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park.

The community college system includes City College of San Francisco, Laney College and Merritt College in Oakland, College of Alameda, Berkeley City College, Chabot College in Hayward, Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, Ohlone College in Fremont, College of San Mateo and Skyline College in San Bruno.

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