$48 Million Going for California Stem Cell Training; 93 Percent Success Rate for Award Applicants

The success rate of applicants for some of the billions of California’s stem cell dollars varies widely, but in the latest round this week it is likely to be at least 93 percent and quite possibly 100 percent.

The round involves $48 million along with 15 of the state’s colleges and universities that do not have major stem cell programs. The applications also do not involve research, but rather training. The proposals will come before directors of the state stem cell agency Tuesday morning for formal ratification. 

Anonymous reviewers earlier, and in private, approved 14 awards. The reviewers’ decisions on applications are routinely rubber-stamped in public by the directors of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known. 

The single rejected application came from Berkeley City College, which has filed an appeal to CIRM directors to overturn the rejection. The names of other applicants in the round have been withheld from the public by the agency, pending action by the directors, who also are not given the names of applicants or a copy of their full applications. 

When an applicant files an appeal, their name is released along with a copy of the appeal.

The training program involved is called Bridges and was begun some years ago. It is highly regarded by the CIRM board, which is dominated by representatives from academic institutions. Earlier this year, the board allotted up to $65 million for the effort. 

In a letter to the board, Barbara Des Rochers of Berkeley City College, who ran the school’s previous Bridges program, and the president of the school, Angelica Garcia, described it as “very strong”  with “a successful record of job placement.” The CIRM review summary noted concern from reviewers about the placement of participants in internships, which are paid. 

“The perception that students were on their own to place themselves in a research lab is not entirely accurate,” Des Rochers  and Garcia wrote, “and it is unfortunate that this was not made clearer in the proposal. 

“A more appropriate term for how students would be placed is self-selection. The process offered in the proposal was put in place during the previous CIRM granting period and it worked very well for us: Once students were selected, there were numerous meetings to go over the available labs, what to consider when selecting a lab, and how to handle an interview. Students were encouraged to select several labs in case either they, or the lab, determined it would not be a good fit following the interview process. 

“The PIs (scientists who control the labs) were told they had the final decision, that students are encouraged to look at more than one lab, and that no harm is done should they decide to decline a student.”

Des Rochers also addressed concerns of reviewers involving diversity efforts. She listed a number of awards that Berkeley had received for its diversity work. She additionally noted that more than 60 percent of the college’s students are “economically disadvantaged.” 

The review summaries for all the applications can be found here. The scores of successful applicants ranged from 97 to 85 out of 100. Berkeley received an 80. The cutoff was 85.

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