Company, Buck Institute join with university to give students hands-on research

BioMarin Pharmaceutical and Dominican University have partnered to offer research-based master's of science degrees administered by the college.

Last year, Dominican and the Buck Institute created a similar program. The master's in biological sciences is a research-intensive program unlike most similar post-graduate programs in that the students get real on-site lab experience.

"In fall 2008, we launched the M.S. in biological sciences with an emphasis on geroscience. This is the nation's first M.S. in biological sciences with an emphasis on age research," said Dr. Sibdas Ghosh, associate dean for academic development and professor in the department.

The program started with six students last fall. The school plans to grow the program to about 20 students by 2010.

Domincan University earlier this year created a strategic plan to improve the school, said Dr. Luis Calingo, executive vice president and chief academic officer.

"These are challenging times for us," Dr. Calingo said. "We have to anticipate what the environment will be and come up with programs that will serve our students."

This master's program is one area of development. The goals in the strategic plan include financial stability, partnering with the community, innovations with academic programs, increasing the full-time staff and an increase of courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which is where these new programs fall into.

Students admitted into this research-based M.S. program are engaged in studies of the most pressing and timely scientific issues of the day, said Dr. Ghosh.

"This is a unique opportunity for students who strive to contribute to enhancing the quality of life. The program is taught by faculty members from both Dominican and the Buck Institute."

Students work directly with scientists and conduct research at Dominican and Buck laboratories.

This fall, there are two students in the BioMarin program who began studying therapeutic science and drug development, including onsite time at the Novato pharmaceutical company. There are five more at the Buck Institute.

"We like to make these programs very interdisciplinary so they can get out and work in any number of fields," said Dr. Ghosh.

The original partnership with the Buck was designed to train students for scientific careers focused on understanding the aging process as well as detecting, preventing and treating age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, cancer, stroke and arthritis, according to the Dominican Web site.

Students in this program are being trained as scientists in interdisciplinary research encompassing genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, age-associated diseases and disciplines of biotechnology including genomicas, proteomics, protein interaction networks and bio-informatics, according to the school.

These programs came out of a number of years of work, said Dr. Ghosh.

In 2001, Dominican started to place a heavy emphasis on growing the science program and hired faculty from some of the country's top research universities.

"We integrated undergraduate research throughout the program beginning the freshman year, and our students began working in the lab alongside their faculty mentors on sophisticated research projects," he said.

As a result, students started presenting at national research conferences and co-authoring articles published in peer-reviewed journals.

"Our students started to get noticed, and we are very fortunate that the Buck Institute was one of the many institutes taking notice of what was going on at Dominican," he said.

In fall 2005, the school invited Dr. Dale Bredesen, founding president and then-CEO of the Buck Institute, to speak at the groundbreaking of the science center. Several students had worked as interns at the Buck Institute, and the Buck scientists were impressed with the quality of the students' work. It was then that President of Dominican Dr. Joe Fink, Dr. Bredesen, Buck COO Dr. James Kovach and Dr. Ghosh started talking about a collaborative initiative.

The school is in conversation with Kaiser Permanente to put together a similar program.

In addition to putting together a master's program with Kaiser, the school is kicking off a pre-medical mentoring program for pre-med students on Sept. 29.

Ten students have been selected to shadow 10 Kaiser doctors so the students will know what they are getting into.