From “New stem cell classroom at MATC triples student capacity” — 

With seven biosafety hoods, plenty of space and a big screen to project images from microscopes, a new stem cell classroom at Madison Area Technical College is a major advance from the cramped quarters where students previously learned how to grow the cells.

The expanded space, dedicated Tuesday, means up to 24 students can be trained each semester, up from eight before. The added capacity could supply more workers for the burgeoning stem cell industry in Madison and around the country.

MATC is thought to be the country’s only two-year college to offer training in growing human embryonic stem cells, first isolated in the lab in 1998 by UW-Madison researcher James Thomson.

Other schools use mouse stem cells, said Jeanette Mowery, a biotechnology instructor at MATC.

“We’re trying to increase the pool of well-trained stem cell technicians,” said Tom Tubon, project director for MATC’s emerging stem cell technologies program. “We’re also trying to make stem cell technology more accessible.”

MATC, also known as Madison College, paid for the $165,000 renovation for the new classroom at its Truax campus on the East Side.

Another $60,000 or so for equipment came from a $851,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The three-year grant mostly will help MATC make its instructional materials available to campuses nationwide, Tubon said.

MATC has been offering a basic stem cell methods class since 2009, two years after the school first received human embryonic stem cells from WiCell, a research institute in Madison that is part of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

In the new classroom starting next week, MATC will offer its first session of an advanced stem cell methods class. Eleven of the 23 students who have taken the basic class have signed up, Tubon said.

Students in the basic class learn how to grow and analyze stem cells. The advanced class will teach them how to coax the multipurpose cells into specialized cells, such as those from the heart and brain. It will also cover induced pluripotent stem cells, adult cells reprogrammed to their embryonic state. Thomson helped discover those cells in 2007.

Katie Draheim, a lab technician since May at the Madison stem cell company Cellular Dynamics, took the basic stem cells class last year. She said she previously had a hard time finding a medical research job, despite having a biology degree.

“I needed something that other people didn’t have,” Draheim said. “The stem cell class clinched it for me.”

Laura Horst, who works at ioGenetics, a Madison biotech company that focuses on proteins, has enrolled in the advanced stem cells class.

“Being able to tell a prospective employer down the road that I have two semesters of experience with stem cells is pretty valuable,” Horst said.

Emile Nuwaysir, chief operating officer at Cellular Dynamics, said the company provides additional training to graduates of MATC’s classes but appreciates the big head start they get at the school.

“We’ve gotten quality graduates out of the program,” Nuwaysir said. “I assume (the expansion) will make them even better prepared than before.”

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