At the back of the Science Village there is a bungalow that houses the Biological Technology Program at PCC. Run by Dr. Pamela Eversole-Cire, the program is host to a grant that allows a select number of students to spend a year interning and developing their own stem cell projects.
Funded by Proposition 71, which was passed by voters back in November 2004, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative was allotted $3 billion to fund stem cell programs.
In 2005, PCC was the first community college to offer it’s students training in stem cell culture and in 2009 it was again the only community college to receive the the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Bridges to Stem Cell Research Award, which issued $1.7 million to the Stem Cell Training Program.
“Several years after CIRM was established we applied for the grant,” Eversole-Cire said. “It’s a prestigious award. We’re very proud of our program.”
The CIRM program was designed to offer students additional research and educational training. The opportunities for the students who apply and qualify are enormous.
“[Students] are selected to participate in a one-year paid internship and can choose to intern at one of three local universities,” Eversole-Cire said. “Currently this year we have eight students. We can fund up to 10.”
The program is so renowned that students who have already earned their B.A. or B.S. often apply for the program to gain a specific skill set that will either help them get a job or use the opportunity to gain experience to apply to a graduate school.
“I came here specifically for the CIRM internship which is pretty unique,” said Tim Hunt who has a B.S. in molecular biology from the University of Washington. “It’s CIRM funded which is something that California did rather proactively in terms of funding stem cell research.”
Since there are only 10 spots in the program, the application is rather extensive.
“They have had to participate in the Biological Technology program. They’ve had to complete the core series and also all of the other courses to earn a certificate in bio technology,” said Eversole-Cire. “They then enter the application process and attend a one week program that I designed to offer additional training.”
After students participate in the one-week program hosted by Dr. Eversole-Cire, they must submit a resume and a letter of recommendation to a committee who then decide which students will be participating in a six-week trial prior to the official internship. The students work in the lab and after six weeks the committee meets again to determine the final students who will be participating in the program.
“It is selective,” Eversole-Cire said. “It is a long process for them, but the students have an opportunity to meet with multiple professors and get a sense of which lab is going to be a good fit for them.”
Starting September 1, the students have a year to either intern at the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California, or the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. The students also attend a bridge meeting in San Francisco to present their finished research in July. The program ends in August.
In addition to performing research at the universities they’re interning at, students also learn coursework, participate in a high school outreach component, go through a variety of training activities, and host a seminar series that various professors are invited to.
“I think it’s great,” said Laura Lim, who already has a B.S. from UC Berkeley. “Initially I joined because I had a volunteer position at a hospital doing research and I wanted to take a class to supplement lab skills. I would like to go to graduate school eventually.”
The goal for CIRM is to train students at the undergrad and masters level. Students train to be qualified in stem cell research for either the workforce or to continue working in the bio-tech industry.
When not at their internships, students work on their research. The lab on the PCC campus has everything from a cell culture lab to new microscopes.
“We are a bio level system one because we only work with mouse stem cells in class,” Eversole-Cire said. “They perform all the manipulation in these units called bio safety cabinets. This creates a sterile environment for the students.”
Most of the equipment that the students use is donated from various local companies that support the program.
Students working on their research must also comply with safety regulations while working in the lab.
“They have to wear proper clothing,” Eversole-Cire said. “They work with live cultures which are mouse cells. There are certain precautions they have to take.”
The students participating in the CIRM Bridges Research program just don’t commit their time to their research, but to also giving back to the community in and around Pasadena.
“It’s called the high school module,” said Karol Lu a former participant of the CIRM program who now works part-time for Dr. Eversole-Cire.
The module is a way for the CIRM program to easily inform high school students about stem cells. The mini course, which runs from one and a half to two weeks, is in a mobile stem cell lab.
“Students are actually very surprised because they don’t learn about this in the textbooks. It’s still very new. It’s in its infancy,” Lu said. “The teachers and the school don’t pay a single dime. It’s all funded by the grant that’s awarded to PCC.”
According to Dr. Eversole-Cire, there are a lot of bio-tech programs in the area. However, lately there’s been an effort for the bio-tech programs to work together so that they can encourage more students to enter the work force.
Dr. Eversole-Cire hopes that the interest in the CIRM program can generate more interest in stem cell training among secondary and college students.
“Many of our students in the Bridges program, they’ve gone on to medical school. They’ve gone on to graduate school,” Eversole-Cire said. “Some of them have been hired in the labs where they’ve performed their internships in.”
The current intern outcomes from May 2014 indicate that 59 percent of participating students get a job at a paid laboratory and 31 percent move onto graduate school.
“Many of our students do quite well after they finish this program,” Eversole-Cire said.
Recently, the CIRM Bridges program received an extension to continue on at PCC for another year.
“Initially this program was for three years,” Eversole-Cire said. “At the end of three years there was a renewal or an additional three years. Very recently there was a decision that they’d extend it for one additional year.”
Starting next September, the CIRM Bridges program will be starting its seventh year at PCC.
Eversole-Cire is hoping that CIRM will develop another request for applicants during it’s 7th year so that the application process will provide the Bridges program with continued funds.
“Currently we don’t know for sure,” Eversole-Cire said. “The program has been terrific. It’s helped so many students. We hope to continue it.”