COMPASS Initiative Receives $2.89 Million Grant for Undergraduate Regenerative Medicine Program

Professor Kristen Cardinal, left, and biomedical engineering student Squeaky Buentipo

Cal Poly will receive $2.89 million from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to fund an undergraduate program focused on regenerative medicine.

The initiative is part of CIRM’s statewide Creating Opportunities through Mentorship and Partnership Across Stem Cell Science, or COMPASS program. CIRM’s mission is to accelerate world-class science to deliver transformative regenerative medicine treatments in an equitable manner to a diverse California and world. Its governing board has approved more than $46 million to help fund COMPASS programs throughout the Golden State.

Regenerative medicine seeks to develop any sort of medical treatment — drugs, engineered stem cells and devices — to help people regenerate parts of their bodies. Cell and biologic therapies represent the future of medicine, and after years of promise, the field is starting to realize its potential, as evidenced by the growth in the biotech sector and the large number of clinical trials currently ongoing for cell and tissue-engineered therapies in the nation.

Cal Poly’s COMPASS team will implement a two-year undergraduate training program to prepare a diverse group of students for a career in regenerative medicine. The team plans to recruit high school and community college students from underrepresented backgrounds as part of the initiative, which aligns with the program’s goal to “guide the growth of a diverse regenerative medicine workforce that represents California and benefits the world.”

Professor Kristen Cardinal, left, and biomedical engineering student Squeaky Buentipo operate a new Spinbox machine that produces electro-spun sheets that serve as scaffolding for growing blood vessels.
Professor Kristen Cardinal, left, and biomedical engineering student Squeaky Buentipo operate a new Spinbox machine that produces electro-spun sheets that serve as scaffolding for growing blood vessels.

“The agency is trying to enhance the diversity of our field while also creating a robust workforce for the rapidly expanding regenerative medicine industry,” said Kristen Cardinal, a biomedical engineering professor at Cal Poly.

Cardinal leads the effort as program director, along with an interdisciplinary faculty team: Trevor Cardinal from the College of Engineering’s Biomedical Engineering Department; Sandi Clement, Elena Keeling and Emily Neal from the College of Science and Mathematics’ Biological Sciences Department; and Jane Lehr, director of the Office of Student Research in the College of Liberal Arts’ Ethnic Studies Department and a professor of Science and Technology Studies and Women’s Studies.

Since 2009, Cal Poly has had a master’s level Regenerative Medicine Interdisciplinary Program that includes a year of coursework and project experience followed by a paid, full-time, nine-month internship to prepare graduates for careers in research and development, biologics manufacturing and translational research, as well as to matriculate into doctoral programs.

Professor Kristen Cardinal, left, and biomedical engineering student Squeaky Buentipo operate a new Spinbox machine that produces electro-spun sheets that serve as scaffolding for growing blood vessels.
Professor Kristen Cardinal, left, and biomedical engineering student Squeaky Buentipo operate a new Spinbox machine that produces electro-spun sheets that serve as scaffolding for growing blood vessels.

Through CIRM, California’s stem cell agency, and the COMPASS team efforts, the new initiative will feature coursework in regenerative medicine for undergraduates, including lab courses in cell therapies, as well as on-campus research experiences, internships and co-ops with industry partners and community outreach. Some of the grant funds will also support COMPASS scholars.

“Although Ph.D. programs in this area have been around for a while, and even M.S. programs have been available for the past 10 to 15 years, there is not as much specific training and education at the bachelor’s level,” Kristen Cardinal said.  “The COMPASS program, at Cal Poly and the other awardee institutions, aims to  help change that. For students, this means they will have new options at the undergraduate level and job opportunities immediately upon completing their bachelor’s degree.”

The $2.89 million grant will be awarded to Cal Poly over the next five years.

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