August 8, 2017

New USC stem cell course teaches how to design an experiment

Rong Lu (Photo by Cristy Lytal)

By Cristy Lytal

For future scientists, few skills are more essential than the ability to design a good experiment. In a new spring 2018 course, SCRM 517 Historical and Contemporary Stem Cell Research, Professor Rong Lu will impart this important skill to graduate students at USC.

“The course will give students an overview of what has been done to bring about our current knowledge of stem cells,” said Lu, assistant professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. “And it will introduce students to what they can do in the future, learning from history so that they can design experiments better when they are conducting their own research.”

During the 10-week course, students will discuss landmark papers related to blood-forming or hematopoietic stem cells—which laid the earliest foundations of the field of regenerative medicine.

“Hematopoietic stem cells came to prominence after World War 2, when there were the nuclear bombs, and people developed leukemia,” said Lu. “And scientists found that hematopoietic stem cells in bone marrow can help the survival of individuals exposed to nuclear radiation.

This led to the development of what is still the most prevalent stem cell therapy used in medicine today: bone marrow transplantation.

In addition to exploring these historical origins, the course will delve into contemporary practice, emphasizing the interdisciplinary connections between hematopoietic stem cell research and mathematics, engineering and other biomedical sciences. Students will be challenged to think about how new technologies have transformed experimental design, and how many experiments of 50 years ago would be done differently if repeated today.

Although the new 2-unit course is being offered as an elective for students in the master of science in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine program, it is open to all USC students who have taken the prerequisite, SCRM 513 Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine.

“The goal of the course,” said Lu, “is to prepare students for a PhD or an independent research career.”