California State University, Long Beach
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$1.35 Million Grant Supports Students Research, Careers

Published: June 15, 2011

Working at a radiologists’ group office made such an impression on Susan George that she decided to return to college after a five-year hiatus and came to Southern California to enroll as an undergraduate biological sciences student at CSULB.

“It was heartbreaking to watch people come in for a breast biopsy who were anywhere from 16-to-90 years old and so scared they might have cancer,” she recalled. “I also remember one gentleman who had metastatic cancer. He was coming in for yet another second opinion and an MRI. This was his last hope to have someone tell him there was any chance he might survive. These experiences, along with watching some of my friends and family battle cancer, led me to decide to return to school and go into scientific research.”

Starting this fall, George will be among 10 Cal State Long Beach science students who will spend the next academic year conducting stem cell research and preparing for biomedical careers through an internship program funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

This is the third group of CSULB students supported by a $1.35 million grant to the university from CIRM, a state agency established under Proposition 71, passed by voters in 2004.

The interns were selected from the stem cell option of CSULB’s Biotechnology Certificate program, directed by Lisa Klig, professor of biological sciences, and co-directed by associate professor Elizabeth Eldon. The internship provides students with a $25,000 stipend—$2,500 per month for 10 months—that enables them to add a second year focused on conducting stem cell research to the normal one-year certificate program.

In addition to George, graduate and undergraduate interns include Colleen Worne, Megan Gilchrist, Natasha Jackson, Foad Teymoorian, Ebony Flowers, Giovanna Pozuelos, Jessica Vazquez, Richard Pepple and Luis Rosa. They will study either at UC Irvine or the City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte.

Stem cells have the capability of turning into a variety of other tissue and organ cells and hold promise for helping heal a number of diseases or injuries, which led George to apply for the internship.

“My areas of scientific research is cell and molecular biology,” she explained. “I am particularly interested in cancer, immunology, genetics and stem cell research. My goals after the stem cell internship are to continue with my education and obtain my Ph.D. After that, I plan to go into research focusing on human diseases and developing new cures and treatments.”

$1.35 Million Grant From CIRM Continues Support

Worne spent the last year and a half learning research techniques in CSULB Professor Houng-Wei Tsai’s Epigenetic Neuroendocrinology Lab. “I plan on working at an innovative local biotechnology laboratory specializing in stem cell research. I desire to be a skilled laboratory technician—able to collaborate on projects and be well respected among my colleagues—and help society in a scientific capacity.

“The CIRM program will equip me with the skills and techniques necessary to succeed under such challenging conditions and achieve my career goals,” she continued. “From a young age I have pursued my passion for biology and research, knowing that helping society in a scientific capacity was, and is, my goal. CSULB has provided me with the scientific background for acceptance into the CIRM program. I am beyond excited to start my lifetime pursuit made possible by such an amazing program.”

In addition to gaining valuable laboratory research experience, they also learn how to write articles for scientific publications and make presentations at science and educational conferences—essential skills for obtaining employment. “They come back inspired and more confident,” Eldon said.

“Our graduates are being snapped up,” as candidates for Ph.D. or medical school programs or by biomedical industry employers, Klig added. “They’re very well trained.”

“I am very excited about the CIRM program,” George said. “I think it is wonderful that they have this available to students who would not otherwise be able to do this. I also think it is wonderful that it is helping to draw interest to a newer area of research and help to put more capable scientists out there who can do this research. I am also impressed with the teachers at CSULB for how much time and energy they have put into this program to help the students and the scientific community has a whole.”

To learn more, visit the CSULB Biological Sciences Department webpage or the CIRM webpage.

–Anne Ambrose