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ASU at Forefront of Talent Pipeline Development in Regenerative Medicine

“Now, more than ever, stem cell research is at the cusp of new treatments and therapies for millions of patients suffering from debilitating conditions such as spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer,” said David Brafman, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biological Health Systems and Engineering and Director, Stem Cell Training and Research Program at the Arizona State University (ASU).

“Human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPCS) are seen to have the unique ability to generate all the mature cells types of the adult human body and therefore have the ability to revolutionize the manner in which scientists and clinicians study and treat these devastating diseases,” he continued.

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For the US to become a world leader in the development of Regenerative Medicine (RM), Brafman believes a well-trained workforce of stem cell biologists and engineers as well as well as experts in biomanufacturing technologies and therapies are needed.  However, ASU noted there are very few formal mechanisms in place in 2018 and as a result the US is falling behind in the training and retraining of scientists in this very critical area.

“ASU learned about a new Government initiative in Regenerative Medicine in the summer of 2016, and the school was very interested not only because of its deep experience in the many disciplines needed within the biomanufacturing industry but also because it was already involved and partnering with several of the Institutes in the Manufacturing USA program,” said Laurel Passantino, Engineering Research Program Manager at ASU. “ASU has invested in the growth of Regenerative Medicine over the last three to four years with the hiring of junior faculty as well as the hiring of experts in bioengineering, cellular & molecular bioscience, biomedicine and genomics among others,” she continued.

To bridge the gap in the training of a workforce for the RM industry, ASU created the Stem Cell Tainting and research (STaR) program which combines coursework, practical laboratory instruction and an internship experience to provide students with not only the knowledge but also the hands-on skills required for basic and translational stem cell research and biomanufacturing. Since its inception, the STaR program has trained over 50 undergraduate students.

In January 2018 at the ARMI Winter Summit, in Manchester, NH, one of six Education Workforce Development (EWD) ‘quick start’ programs, awarded to ASU, was announced.

“The components of the quick start program were designed with input from clinical and industry partners, many of whom are members of the BioFabUSA community, to equip students with a skill set for post graduate careers in regenerative medicine,” added Brafman.

The program will be staffed by a combination of the STaR faculty, expertise from the Fulton Schools of Engineering and ASU Online.  A pilot summer 2018 program will initiate the development of a comprehensive online curriculum in RM and biomanufacturing for undergrads, graduates, veterans and non-college-bound youth beginning at the end of 2018.

ASU anticipates that by the end of 2018 the deployment of an online course will serve 30 students – 10 ASU Undergraduate; 10 students from BioFabUSA member universities and 10 employees from BioFabUSA member industrial partners.

“ASU has a high percentage of online courses that are flexible and able to assist in the development of a new workforce for Regenerative Medicine by allowing students to take courses, then go back to their job or internship and then return to the program, making it a feasible option for all ages and backgrounds of students.”

Overall, this project will serve as a conduit and test bed for the development of additional and advanced online courses in stem cell engineering, regenerative medicine, and biomanufacturing. The long-term aim of the project is to develop a comprehensive online certificate programs in RM to provide the future industry with an accessible pool of highly-skilled cell professionals trained to overcome the unique challenges associated with the pursuit of stem-cell based biomanufacturing research.

The pilot program will include six weeks of lectures and two weeks of hands on sessions followed by internships. ASU predicts that the University will have a full two-year and four-year online program available within the next five years.

“We view ARMI | BioFabUSA as the conduit for all stakeholders from students to the workforce and from patents to standards,” noted Brafman adding, “ARMI was set up for all stakeholders. Other groups in the country are doing great things; but they are not engaged in standards from the outset. All of the stakeholders in the industry need to be engaged in all aspects from the beginning. There are hurdles that need to be overcome with tissue and organs for human transplant and sometimes the traditional connection with an industry and academia can be slow going, ARMI | BioFabUSA can accelerate this,” he concluded.