02 Dec New program teaches basics of human embryonic stem cells
Madison’s community college has established an advanced degree that trains students the basics of working with human embryonic stem cells. It’s thought to be the only program at college of this kind that offering hands-on experience with human embryonic stem cells.
The post-baccalaureate Certificate in Stem Cell Techniques launched this fall through the Biotechnology Department at Madison Area Technical College (MATC). It currently offers one practical laboratory course in culturing and characterizing human embryonic stem cells, which were first derived in 1998 by University of Wisconsin-Madison cell biologist James A. Thomson.
“This really makes sense in Madison and this is a place where we can make a contribution,” Biotechnology Program Director Lisa Seidman said of the stem cell certificate. “We were ht perfect place to gear up for this.”
The college will this spring offer one course, and add a second lab course in human stem cells next fall, Seidman said. It’s an expansion of the college’s Biotechnology Program that began with associate degree courses in1987. Since then, the program has added other advanced programs, including one on Bioinformatics and another Biotechnology Intensive certificate.
The stem cell program was conceived when Seidman bumped into a graduate of the school’s Biotechnology Associate program at a trade conference. That former student now works at WiCell Research Institute in Madison, and saw the need for stem cell training for professionals with a bachelor’s degree.
“WiCell has been incredibly helpful and supportive,” Seidman said. “They see a need for people doing the training.”
WiCell senior scientist and director of education and outreach Rupa Shevde also thought it made perfect sense to help establish the new stem cell program at Madison College.
“We only target scientists. We have no way to target the young people interested in making a career in the stem cell industry,” said Shevde. “If we work with MATC, then we’re targeting a different kind of population and we’re empowering a younger population to help them work in the field.”
Through a contract agreement, WiCell supplies the program with live (not frozen) human embryonic stem cells. Students work with the cells and the college disposes of them in the proper manner once the class has finished. Shevde said this allows the college to have a good supply of cells without investing in expensive equipment required to store cells, thaw and expand them. WiCell also trained administrators and others at the college involved in this new program.
The college has purchased two specialized microscopes for the program, which enables students taking the small lab class to learn about maintaining and characterizing the cells. The course is taught by Karl Nichols, who works with the Center for Eukaryotic Structural Genomics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Biochemistry Department.
Shevde said it’s important to fuel the stem cell field with experienced professionals.
“. We believe that in having this experience, students will say, `I like cell culture’ and that will lead them to the university or graduate school and also help them to apply for a job,” Shevde said. “They’ll be more competitive having seen stem cells. It will put them in a different category of people seeking jobs in the science industry.”
Shevde said she has already seen the college’s impact on the industry. WiCell, itself, has hired graduates of the program.
Beth Donley, CEO of Stemina Biomarker Discovery Inc. in Madison, also thinks the new advanced stem cell certificate program is good for the industry.
“It’s a pretty technical area. There are some technician jobs that would need a person at that level that a grad student wouldn’t want to have for a long period,” said Donley, noting that they have two people working in such positions right now. “Wisconsin is the home of human embryonic stem cells and it’s critically important to reinforce that infrastructure because we want to continue to be the leader in stem cells.”
This program is aided by a $639,220 National Science Foundation grant awarded to then MATC in 2005. Seidman said the grant, now in its final year, is not renewable. But the college will seek new funding to continue and expand its biotechnology education, including work in stem cell training.
“We’ve put hundreds of people into companies, and I think it reflects the way we’ve dev a good reputation in the community as a good place to learn about biotechnology,” Seidman said. “We’re try to serve our associate degree community and others who have a bachelor’s degree or experience out in the field as well.”