Cecil expands opportunities for students in bioproduction

Published on September 9, 2022

Laboratory image of bio production

NORTH EAST, MD. – Bioproduction is the design, development and production of small molecules instrumental in making a wide variety of commercial products such as vaccines, antibodies, biowarfare weapons, even yeasts that produce unique beers.

There is an ever-growing demand for skilled laboratory technicians in the field of bioproduction due to a resurgence of research facilities in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is especially true in the Philadelphia to Baltimore corridor.

To meet this demand, Cecil College launched two programs to train today’s workforce in the applications necessary for graduates to step into these skilled positions. The first program is an 18 credit Lab Skills certificate that can be completed in two semesters. Students learn the skills of pipetting, molecular cloning, laboratory record keeping, precision measuring, growing cell and microbe cultures, and the ability to sterilize equipment while practicing required sterile techniques.

The second program is a 2-year, associate degree in bioproduction; state of the art processes that uses living cells (e.g. fungal, bacterial or animal cells) to produce desired products. This interdisciplinary field incorporates aspects of biology, engineering, and chemistry. It includes many technologies involved in maintaining live tissue cultures, stimulating desired protein production through upstream and downstream processing, and laboratory analysis using spectroscopy, chromatography, and microbiology.

“There is a large void of applicants in the bioproduction field. The industry advisory boards have highlighted the need for trained technicians who can step into to the lab with an understanding of safety protocols and sterilization procedures,” said Dr. Benjamin Rohe, Professor of Biology and Cecil College’s Bioproduction Program Coordinator.

In collaboration with the Jefferson Institute for Bioproduction and researchers from Thomas Jefferson University, these programs were designed to create an optimal path that allows students earning the certificate to move directly into employment or into the two-year associate degree. Graduates are then able to transfer to a four or even six-year program for a bachelors or master’s degree.

“Both of these programs provide the exact skill sets needed to be successful in our company, and many companies like ours,” said Mark Mortenson, co-founder and chief science officer of Clene Nanomedicine.

The newly launched certificate program was made possible through a grant from Newark, DE based National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), which provided funding through the American Rescue Plan (ARP). NIIMBL identified Cecil College’s programs as essential to preparing the workforce to address future national public health threats.

“The employers in these fields are looking for people conscientious about their work habits within the laboratory. They want individuals who are meticulous about their work and their techniques. The priority in these laboratories is keeping everything sterile,” said Assistant Professor Christine Warwick, Cecil College’s Chair for Science and Technology. “Many of these companies realize they don’t need applicants with a four-year degree. This certificate and associate degree provide the basic skills students need to get started. The creation of these two programs meets a clear market need for skilled technicians within the lab.”

Maintaining a sterile environment is a priority as bioproduction firms use living organisms to manufacture products or solve problems. The identification and sourcing of DNA have helped the industry make great leaps, enabling companies in this sector to develop pest-resistant crops, create biofuels like ethanol, and developed gene cloning. This work also touches on products such as beer and wine, laundry detergent, and anything made from plastic.

The NIIMBL funding has enabled Cecil College to purchase the necessary laboratory instruments to provide students with real-world, hands-on experience. These instruments include microplate readers, spectrometers, centrifuges, bioreactors, and other analytic instruments. “Being in a small lab setting at a smaller institution, we can provide our students access to this equipment. At the larger universities, you have several hundred students vying for access to limited laboratory space. The major benefit for us is this access to the equipment is included in the course curriculum so all our students will work with the instruments,” said Dr. Rohe. This environment provides students the opportunity to apply newly learned skills, so they complete the programs ready for the workforce.

NIIMBL members include large and small companies, academic institutions, non-profits, and federal agency partners who are well-equipped to significantly strengthen the nation’s preparedness and response to public health crises. Cecil College is a member of NIIMBL. The certificate was developed under a Project Award Agreement from the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) and financial assistance award 70NANB21H085 from the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology.