MIT, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Georgia Tech will run the facility.

While the behaviors of individual cells and the functions and properties of tissues and organs have been extensively studied, the complex interactions of cell clusters have not been examined in great detail.

The new $25 million Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS) Center has been established to study the complex interactions of cell clusters. It was established by the NSF and will be operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The EBICS Center aims to advance research in complex biological systems, create new educational programs based on this research, and demonstrate leadership in its involvement of groups traditionally underrepresented in science and engineering.

“Ultimately, we envision being able to create biological modules—sensors, processors, actuators—that can be combined in various ways to produce different capabilities,” says Roger Kamm, Germeshausen professor of mechanical and biological engineering at MIT and the Center’s founding director. “If we are successful, this will open up an entirely new field of research with wide-ranging implications from regenerative medicine to developmental biology.”

Georgia Tech will receive over $1.6 million per year to support the research and educational efforts in the EBICS Center. “Critical to the successful design of engineered cellular systems is a fundamental understanding of interactions between cells and their environment, their control by biochemical and mechanical cues, and the coordinated behavior of functional biological machines,” remarks Gang Bao, Ph.D., the Robert A. Milton chair in biomedical engineering in the Wallace H. Coulter department of biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

Dr. Bao will coordinate four research areas:

• Investigating how individual cells integrate the various biological, biochemical, and physical cues from their environments to determine their ultimate states and biological behaviors
• Determining the emergent behaviors and interactions of cell clusters, including the transition from single-cell to multi-cell behavior, the nature of communication between cells, and how this leads to functional coordination among neighboring cells and cell populations
• Creating and characterizing simple cellular machines that perform increasingly complex tasks such as sensing, information processing, protein expression, and transport
• Developing enabling technologies to ensure the goals of the other three areas can be met.

EBICS researchers will also work closely with members of the Global Enterprise for MicroMechanics and Molecular Medicine (GEM4) to expand upon the international collaborations and educational activities fostered by GEM4 in cell and molecular biomechanics and their implications for human diseases and molecular medicine, and from the specialized summer GEM4 training programs organized at different institutions under a separate grant from NSF.  

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