Congratulations: Dr. Rashid Bashir named Royal Society of Chemistry Fellow

Published: March 14, 2018

Professor Rashid Bashir, a Grainger Distinguished Chair in Bioengineering, earned the honor in recognition of his research contributions in the broad field of BioMEMS and biomedical nanotechnology.

NOW OPEN for Applications: Engineering Cellular Systems Summer School @ University of Illinois

Published: March 14, 2018

AUGUST 6 – 10, 2018
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

A week of lectures and hands-on training in engineering, biological, and physical science laboratory techniques covering topics such as cell biology, engineering tools, biomachines, organs on a chip, neuroengineering and computational tools. See Sample Schedule

We encourage advanced undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs, and faculty from engineering, physical sciences, and biological sciences who are interested in state-of-the-art interdisciplinary research at the intersection of engineering and biology to apply

$1,500/selected participant (Financial assistance may be available toward this fee. Please indicate your need for aid on the application form)

Room and board from August 5 – August 11, 2018

Dr. Ritu Raman returns to Science Friday!

Published: February 23, 2018

EBICS affiliate Dr. Ritu Raman will be reprising her visit with NPR's Science Friday to discuss recent work on healing bots and multicellular bots. She will also be discussing work to make a hands-on tutorial for educational purposes, and a recent invitation to present a booth on biobots at the the USA Science & Engineering Festival in April! Tune in for what is sure to be an exciting discussion.

Listen in at 3pm ET on Boston-area NPR station WBUR 90.9, online at Science Friday, or via your favorite podcast app.

Simone Douglas receives NSF Graduate Fellowship and Teaching Award

Published: January 16, 2018

Simone Douglas, EBICS trainee at Georgia Tech and mentored by Dr. Manu Platt, was awarded the prestigious 2017 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. She is 1 of 2,000 awardees selected from over 13,000 applicants.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program aims to develop the nation's leadership in science and engineering research and innovation. The fellowship lasts for 5 years with financial support for 3 years along with a Cost of Education Allowance for the fellow's institution.
This past month, Simone was also named the 2017 Biomedical Engineering Teaching Assistant of the Year and given the BME Graduate Teaching/Mentorship Award.

She was a TA for "Introduction to Biomedical Engineering Design" and the instructor for the course, Martin Jacobson, said "Simone is one of the top 5 TA's I've worked with in the past six years here at Tech. Her manner of address to the students is clear, to the point, and respectful but firm. Her communication of deliverables and expectations on the first go-around sounds more like a professor who's taught the class many times before. With her technical skills and infectious enthusiasm for sharing her knowledge, she gets the students engaged and the students respond well to her encouragement."

Simone contributes to the Vascularization Working group; her research focuses on studying non-plasmin fibrinolysis pathways to characterize and control fibrin degradation in vascularized constructs. Congratulations Simone!

Project ENGAGES participates in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

Published: January 16, 2018

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), is the world's largest international pre-college science competition. Each year, Intel ISEF provides approximately 1,800 top young scientific high school students from more than 75 countries, regions, and territories the opportunity to showcase their independent research where doctoral level scientists review and judge their work to compete for, on average, $4 million in prizes. Project ENGAGES have three scholars who were selected to participate in this competition which will take place in Los Angeles, California May 14-19, 2017.

EBICS Annual Retreat Recap - Callaway Gardens, Georgia

Published: January 16, 2018

EBICS 2017 ANNUAL RETREAT - Members of the EBICS community including faculty, trainees, REUs, External Advisory Committee (EAC), Industry Advisory Committee (IAC), and staff, will participate in the 2017 EBICS Annual Retreat at Callaway Gardens, in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

Highlights are:
Presentations on diversity and education in EBICS, the Student Leadership Council (SLC), and all seven working group research presentations
The annual Technology Conceptualization Plan Competition (largest-ever cohort!)
A new Ethics module
Trainee and REU poster presentations
Working group breakout sessions

Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University for Regenerative and Developmental Biology: "Reading and Writing the Morphogenetic" by Dr. Michael Levin

Published: January 16, 2018

"Living systems are able not just to grow tissues, but to maintain them over time and, in some cases, regenerate them when they are altered by injury or disease. Underlying this ability is the morphogenetic code, which consists of the mechanisms and information structures by which networks of cells represent and dynamically regulate the target" morphology of the system.

More Biobots highlights in the Alliance of Advanced BioMedical Engineering: "Living Machines begin to Emerge"

Published: January 10, 2018

"When we put these building blocks together, we can capitalize on their individual functionalities and make something new to serve whatever purpose we want," said Caroline Cvetkovic, a postdoctoral bioengineer from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, one of the 10 research institutions on the NSF project, which is called Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS).

The microswimmer, a cell-based robot built by bioengineer Taher Saif and colleagues, consists of beating heart cells arranged on a flexible microfilament string, and it propels by flexing and extending, much like the tale of sperm. Image: Brian Williams, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University for Regenerative and Developmental Biology: "Reading and Writing the Morphogenetic" by Dr. Michael Levin

Published: January 10, 2018

"Living systems are able not just to grow tissues, but to maintain them over time and, in some cases, regenerate them when they are altered by injury or disease. Underlying this ability is the morphogenetic code, which consists of the mechanisms and information structures by which networks of cells represent and dynamically regulate the target" morphology of the system.

EBICS Research Experience for Undergraduates - Application for Summer 2018 is now OPEN!

Published: November 15, 2017

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Center on Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS) invites all undergraduates who are U.S. citizens/permanent residents AND currently enrolled in a science/engineering undergraduate program to apply! We strongly encourage students from underrepresented minority groups, women, and individuals with disabilities to submit an application! Learn about what EBICS REU offers and APPLY! Deadline Friday, February 16, 2018.

Dr. Rashid Bashir receives the 2018 Robert A. Pritzker Distinguished Lecture Award

Published: October 10, 2017

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Bioengineering Professor Rashid Bashir has been selected to receive the 2018 Robert A. Pritzker Distinguished Lecture Award, the Biomedical Engineering Society's (BMES) premier recognition for outstanding achievements and leadership in the science and practice of biomedical engineering.

Bashir's research focuses on integrating engineering and technology with biology, from the molecular scale to tissues and systems. Among other innovations, his group has developed various lab-on-a-chip technologies, miniature biological robots, and point-of-care diagnostic devices, leading to the creation of multiple startup companies.

Dr. Manu Platt delivers the 2017 Diversity Award Lecture: Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting

Published: October 5, 2017

"We are excited to highlight Manu's activities and many contributions to our community with the opening plenary lecture," said BMES President Lori Setton.

Platt is an engaging speaker and should be a familiar face to regular attendees of the BMES Annual Meeting. He is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech & Emory, a Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Scholar, and Diversity Director for the Science and Technology Center on Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems.

Steve Stice and the Regenerative Bioscience Center enter research consortium with Georgia Tech: CMaT will develop advanced cell therapies for chronic diseases

Published: September 25, 2017

"Steven Stice is leading researchers at the University of Georgia's Regenerative Bioscience Center in a newly funded research consortium designed to hasten the development of advanced cell therapies for a range of chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

With $20 million in funding from the National Science Foundation, the Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies, dubbed CMaT, will bring together RBC researchers, industry partners, clinicians, engineers, cell biologists and immunologists."

Illinois News Bureau: New microscope technique reveals internal structure of live embryos

Published: August 8, 2017

University of Illinois researchers have developed a way to produce 3-D images of live embryos in cattle that could help determine embryo viability before in vitro fertilization in humans.

Infertility can be devastating for those who want children. Many seek treatment, and the cost of a single IVF cycle can be $20,000, making it desirable to succeed in as few attempts as possible. Advanced knowledge regarding the health of embryos could help physicians select those that are most likely to lead to successful pregnancies.
The new method, published in the journal Nature Communications, brought together electrical and computer engineering professor Gabriel Popescu and animal sciences professor Matthew Wheeler in a collaborative project through the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the U. of I.
Called gradient light interference microscopy, the method solves a challenge that other methods have struggled with - imaging thick, multicellular samples.
In many forms of traditional biomedical microscopy, light is shined through very thin slices of tissue to produce an image. Other methods use chemical or physical markers that allow the operator to find the specific object they are looking for within a thick sample, but those markers can be toxic to living tissue, Popescu said.

"When looking at thick samples with other methods, your image becomes washed out due to the light bouncing off of all surfaces in the sample," said graduate student Mikhail Kandel, the co-lead author of the study. "It is like looking into a cloud."

Biobots on the front cover of Advanced Healthcare Materials: "Damage, Healing, and Remoeling in Optogenetic Skeletal Muscle Bioactuator"

Published: May 10, 2017

A deeper understanding of biological materials and the design principles that govern them, combined with the enabling technology of 3D printing, has given rise to the idea of "building with biology". With these materials and tools in hand, we are ideally poised to manufacture bio-hybrid robots, or bio-bots, that adaptively sense and respond to their environment. We have developed skeletal muscle bioactuators to power these bio-bots, and present an approach to make them dynamically responsive to changing environmental loads and robustly resilient to induced damage. Specifically, since the predominant cause of skeletal muscle loss of function is mechanical damage, we have investigated the underlying mechanisms of damage in vitro, and developed an in vivo-inspired healing strategy to counteract this damage. The protocol we have developed yields complete recovery of healthy tissue functionality within two days of damage, setting the stage for a more robust, resilient, and adaptive bioactuator technology than previously demonstrated. Understanding and exploiting the adaptive response behaviors inherent within biological systems in this manner is a crucial step forward in designing bio-hybrid machines that are broadly applicable to grand engineering challenges.

Professor Maribel Vazquez receives the 2017 CCNY President's Award for Excellence

Published: May 9, 2017

The President's Award for Excellence is an annual award granted to an individual faculty member whose creativity and commitment to student learning improves the learning experiences that students have in multiple disciplines at City College. This award recognizes the important relationship between research and the undergraduate and graduate experience and involves joining faculty with student research so that there is a seamless connection between the scholarship and the teaching experience. This award recognizes faculty members for their innovative approaches in mentoring, research, teaching, scholarship and serving as exemplary models for excellence in scholarship, teaching and student success.

2016 REU student Kwasi Amofa wins Fulbright and Whitacre Scholarships

Published: April 27, 2017

What started as a typical summer research program in Boston, MA for undergraduate engineering students, turned into the opportunity of a lifetime for Western New England University senior Kwasi Amofa from Glastonbury, CT. Amofa was recently accepted to participate in research as a prestigious Fulbright Scholar. Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, and their record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields.

Amofa spent the summer of 2016 doing research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where one of his mentors (previously a Fulbright Scholar) encouraged Amofa to apply to the highly respected program. The application process was rigorous, however, Amofa had the support he needed from his faculty advisor and several faculty at Western New England University.
"The support that I received from my professors was tremendous. They were a great help in putting together my application and all the other requirements," Amofa explained. "My education at Western New England prepared me to dive into the research environment, and my advisors helped me discover the type of research I wanted to pursue, which is a critical first step."
Amofa will spend next year in the Netherlands working on a new project to bioengineer a cornea, the eye's outermost layer, which could potentially have a great impact on medical treatment. He will work with a group of researchers across many disciplines, including engineering, biology, chemistry, and material science, which Amofa believes will make the experience even more enriching.

"Kwasi Amofa is an exceptional student and a rigorous young researcher," remarked Hossein Cheraghi, professor and dean of the College of Engineering at Western New England University. "We are excited for this opportunity he has received, and we know he will make the most of it as he works with top researchers from various other institutions in the Netherlands next year."
The Fulbright Program, which began in 1948, is funded through an annual appropriation by the United States Congress to the U.S. Department of State, and managed by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating foreign governments and host institutions also provide support.

Dr. Bob Nerem and Dr. Manu Platt receives the Georgia Tech Faculty Award and Outreach

Published: April 20, 2017

This award rewards faculty members for productive academic outreach in which they go beyond their normal duties to enrich the larger educational community with their subject matter knowledge. The goal is to grant one or two awards annually, depending on the number and quality of nominations. However, no more than one faculty member from any given academic unit will be selected in the same year. The award amount is $2,500. If two awards are given, this sum will be evenly split between the two winners.

An exciting month for EBICS faculty! Professor Paula Hammond, Professor Steven Stice, and Professor Hyunjoon Kong receive respective honors for their achievements

Published: March 26, 2017

Paula Hammond, David H. Koch Professor and Head of MIT's Chemical Engineering Department, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) for contributions to self-assembly of polyelectrolytes, colloids, and block copolymers at surfaces and interfaces for energy and health care applications. Election to the NAE is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. Membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature" and to "the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education."

Hyunjoon Kong, interim Director of UIUC's Bioengineering graduate program, was elected by the College of Fellows for induction into The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) for outstanding contributions to the fields of biomaterials, bioimaging contrast agents and tissue engineering. The College of Fellows is comprised of the most accomplished and distinguished engineering and medical school chairs, research directors, professors, innovators, and successful entrepreneurs. Since 1991, AIMBE's College of Fellows has led the way for technological growth and advancement in the fields of medical and biological engineering. Fellows have helped revolutionize medicine and related fields in order to enhance and extend the lives of people all over the world.

Steven Stice, Director of UGA's Regenerative Bioscience Center, was honored as a recipient of the 2017 Georgia Bio Industry Growth Award, the highest honor bestowed each year by Georgia Bio, Georgia's life sciences industry association. Stice was recognized for his longstanding commitment to growing the life science industry in Georgia as well as the advancement of regenerative medicine research and commercialization in the state. He is the D.W. Brooks Distinguished Professor, a GRA Eminent Scholar, and founder of two Athens-based biotechnology companies, ArunA Biomedical and SciStem.

"Advances in on-chip vascularization" published in Regenerative Medicine

Published: March 20, 2017

Microfluidics is invaluable for studying microvasculature, development of organ-on-chip models and engineering microtissues. Microfluidic design can cleverly control geometry, biochemical gradients and mechanical stimuli, such as shear and interstitial flow, to more closely mimic in vivo conditions. In vitro vascular networks are generated by two distinct approaches: via endothelial-lined patterned channels, or by self-assembled networks. Each system has its own benefits and is amenable to the study of angiogenesis, vasculogenesis and cancer metastasis. techniques are employed in order to generate rapid perfusion of these networks within a variety of tissue and organ-mimicking models, some of which have shown recent success following implantation in vivo. Combined with tuneable hydrogels, microfluidics holds great promise for drug screening as well as in the development of prevascularized tissues for regenerative medicine.

EBICS Knowledge Transfer in Action!: Demarcus Briers showcases research collaborations between BU, Gladstone Institute, and Georgia Tech to BU's Bioinformatics PhD program

Published: March 1, 2017

Mar. 1, 2017 - At BU's bi-weekly Student Seminars for their Bioinformatics PhD program, Demarcus Briers, EBICS trainee at Boston University, presented "Pattern Synthesis in Networks of Locally Interacting Stem Cell Aggregates," featuring results of research collaborations with Ashley Libby, EBICS trainee at Gladstone Institutes, and EBICS faculty Melissa Kemp of Georgia Tech and Todd McDevitt of Gladstone Institutes.

Embryonic stem cells (ESC) are generally regarded as the smallest functional units necessary to reproduce multicellular systems such as tissues and organs. However, controlled spatial patterning is likely a necessary precursor for developing organ-like tissues. Starting with 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional local interaction models of ESC dynamics, Briers and his collaborators developed a pattern classification and parameter optimization approach to maximize the occurrence of desired morphogenic patterns. Their approach uses Particle Swarm Optimization (PSO) and a pattern classification method that exploits a quantitative characterization of pattern formation. Since patterning likely imprints subsequent choices that stem cell aggregates make in lineage specification (e.g. precursors of neurons, lung cells, or muscle cells), their parameter optimization approach can be used to synthesize global patterns through local cellular interactions.

University of Georgia Magazine Highlights Cali Callaway

Published: February 28, 2017

Cali is also a Goldwater Honor. The privately funded Honors Program allowed Cali to conduct research with world-class scientist at UGA. See what Cali discovered in helping patients heal.

EBICS panel makes a case for how EBICS research serves society through science policy at 2017 AAAS Annual Meeting

Published: February 18, 2017

Feb. 18, 2017 - A multi-institutional panel of EBICS faculty presented on the topic of " Integrated Cellular Systems: Building Machines with Cells" at the 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Press Briefing in Boston, which brought together thousands of leading scientists, engineers, educators, policymakers, and journalists from around the world to discuss the theme of "Serving Society Through Science Policy," focusing on how to inform policies with the best available scientific evidence.

Their 90-minute session, moderated by Lizanne DeStefano (GT), consisted of three subtopics. On the topic of "Engineered Living Micro Swimmers," Taher Saif (UIUC) demonstrated a family of micro-scale swimmers, a biological machine, that emerges from interactions between muscle cells, neurons and flexible scaffolds. These engineered living machines may deliver drugs to specific locations on their own decision. On the topic of "How to Engineer a Living System," Rashid Bashir (UIUC) described, and provided examples, of several control methodologies that can be used to direct emergence. The emergence of complex connections and interactions between constituent cells is essential for their intended behavior. On the topic of "Simulation of Emergent Behavior in Multicellular Aggregates," Melissa Kemp (GT) discussed results from computational models that simulate the growth, division, and differentiation of multicellular systems into emergent patterns, and the challenges in quantifying and predicting dynamic behaviors in engineered living systems.

Altogether, these presentations address how development of increasingly complex cellular systems will be a major challenge for the next decade and beyond, as we use the knowledge gained from the sub-disciplines of tissue engineering, synthetic biology, micro-fabrication and nanotechnology, systems biology, and developmental biology. They describe the current state-of-the-art in the context of differentiating source cells from more primitive, pluripotent cells, organizing cells into populations of a single cell type to produce the components or building blocks of more higher order systems, and combining multiple cell types to produce greater functionality. Finally, the EBICS panel considers complex ethical implications as these "biological machines" increase in capabilities, exhibit emergent behavior and potentially reveal the ability for self-assembly, self-repair, and even self-replication.

Now you can build your own bio-bot! Instructions revealed by University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign

Published: February 10, 2017

Feb. 10, 2017 - In the cover article of Nature Protocols's March 2017 issue, Professor Rashid Bashir's research group shares the recipe for the current generation of bio-bots. "The protocol teaches every step of building a bio-bot, from 3D printing the skeleton to tissue engineering the skeletal muscle actuator, including manufacturers and part numbers for every single thing we use in the lab," explained Ritu Raman, now a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Bioengineering and first author of their paper, "A modular approach to the design, fabrication, and characterization of muscle-powered biological machines."

Bashir's group has been a pioneer in designing and building bio-bots, less than a centimeter in size, made of flexible 3D printed hydrogels and living cells. In 2012, the group demonstrated bio-bots that could "walk" on their own, powered by beating heart cells from rats. However, heart cells constantly contract, denying researchers control over the bot's motion. "The 3D printing revolution has given us the tools required to 'build with biology' in this way." Raman said. "We re-designed the 3D-printed injection mold to produce skeletal muscle 'rings' that could be manually transferred to any of a wide variety of bio-bot skeletons. These rings were shown to produce passive and active tension forces similar to those generated by muscle strips. Using optogenetics techniques, we worked with collaborators at MIT to genetically engineer a light-responsive skeletal muscle cell line that could be stimulated to contract by pulses of 470-nm blue light."

"The purpose of the paper was to provide the detailed recipes and protocols so that others can easily duplicate the work and help to further permeate the idea of 'building with biology' so that other researchers and educators can have the tools and the knowledge to build these bio-hybrid systems and attempt to address challenges in health, medicine, and environment that we face as a society," stated Bashir. In addition to Bashir and Raman, Caroline Cvetkovic, a recent graduate student in bioengineering and now a post-doctoral fellow, was a co-author of the paper. Work on the bio-bots was conducted at the Micro + Nanotechnology Lab at Illinois.

- Adapted from the original article by  Rick Kubetz, Engineering Communications Office

A.I. used to generate a never-before-seen cancer phenotype

Published: January 27, 2017

Jan. 27, 2017 - Researchers from Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences, the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County have had previously shown that pigment cells (melanocytes) in developing frogs could be converted to a cancer-like, metastatic form by disrupting their normal bioelectric and serotonergic signaling and had used AI to reverse-engineer a model that explained this complex process. However, during these extensive experiments, the biologists observed something remarkable: All the melanocytes in a single frog larva either converted to the cancer-like form or remained completely normal. In the new study, the researchers asked their AI-derived model to answer the question of how to achieve partial melanocyte conversion within the same animal using one or more interventions.  

The AI model ultimately predicted that a precise combination of three reagents (altanserin, a 5HTR2 inhibitor; reserpine, a VMAT inhibitor, and VP16-XlCreb1, mRNA encoding constitutively active CREB) would achieve that outcome. When this pharmaceutical cocktail was used in vivo on real tadpoles, the result was, in fact, conversion of melanocytes in some regions but not others within individual frog larvae-something never before seen. "Even with the full model describing the exact mechanism that controls the system, a human scientist alone would not have been able to find the exact combination of drugs that would result in the desired outcome. This provides proof-of-concept of how an artificial intelligence system can help us find the exact interventions necessary to obtain a specific result," said the paper's first author, Dr. Daniel Lobo, assistant professor of biology and computer science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Plans for future research include extending the platform to incorporate time-series data that will enable even more accurate comparisons between computer and in vivo models. Researchers also hope to extend the approach to other aspects of regenerative medicine by discovering interventions that help reprogram tumors, kick start regeneration and control stem cell dynamics. Levin added, "Much of biomedicine boils down to this: We have a complex biological system, and a ton of data on what various perturbations have been seen to do to it. Now we want to do something different--cure a disease, control cell behavior, regenerate tissue. For almost any problem where a lot of data are available, we can use this model-discovery platform to find a model and then interrogate it to see what we have to do to achieve result X."

- Adapted from original article by Patrick Collins, Tufts Now

UIUC researchers develop label-free technique to image microtubles

Published: January 26, 2017

Jan. 26, 2017 - Malfunctioning microtubules have been associated with various illnesses including cancer and Alzheimer's disease. However, studying a single dynamic microtubule, which measures 24 nanometers in diameter, and up to 10 microns in length, is complicated by established practices of using dyes or stains that are added in order to see the item more clearly, as they can affect the item that is to be scanned in unexpected ways, damaging or even killing biological materials. Researchers in the Quantitative Light Imaging Laboratory at the Beckman Institute, led by Mikhail Kandel, EBICS trainee and lead author on the study, recently published in ACS Nano their technique of using label-free spatial light interference microscopy (SLIM) and computer processing in order to image the microtubules in an assay. 

Previous efforts at imaging the miniscule structures have used immunofluorescence, injecting antibodies into fluorescent dyes in order to clearly see the cell as it functions. However, the fluorescence can affect cell function and the length of time that the cell can be imaged. "We imaged them for a very long period of time, not two or three minutes, but more like eight hours," said Kandel. "The label-free aspect is the main breakthrough in my opinion," said Gabriel Popescu,  associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.  "There have been other efforts towards making this label-free, it's a very important class of challenges. Current techniques yield smaller fields of view, and the image contrast is not as good."

SLIM is a commercially manufactured product that can fit on to upgrade about any microscope, say the researchers. This allows biologists to use other microscopy techniques, including fluorescence, in addition to SLIM. The SLIM product is available through Phi Optics, a company that Popescu founded.  The researchers plan to push the boundaries on imaging cells, hopefully imaging microtubules in live cells.  "If we manage to push this in a living cell, that would be a real breakthrough," said Popescu. 

- Adapted from original article by Maeve Reilly, Beckman Institute

EBICS Knowledge Transfer in Action!: Kara McCloskey delivers UIUC-developed bio-bot teaching module to UC Merced

Published: January 11, 2017

Jan. 11, 2017 - Kara McCloskey, EBICS faculty member at UC Merced, collaborates with Renuka Nandkishore and Rashid Bashir's lab at UIUC to teach students in her Tissue Engineering Design course to build living, walking robots, aka "bio-bots," out of engineered muscle cells. By harnessing the adaptive response behaviors of biological materials, bio-bots could accomplish more than traditional robots can, due to complex functionalities like self-assembly or self-healing. "Bio-bots have only been around since 2012, so this is really cutting-edge science with multiple technologies - natural materials assembly, 3-D printing, genetic engineering, cell patterning and self-assembly, mechanical force generation - all in a micro-scale platform," McCloskey said. 

UIUC developed the bio-bot teaching curriculum and provided the most critical tools, protocols and lecture materials -- the molds for the muscle rings, the 3-D-printed skeletons and the original cell line -- to support delivering the course at collaborating EBICS institutions. McCloskey's UC Merced students are the first from another campus to learn this module as part of their coursework. In learning to assemble cells into functional tissue, McCloskey's students culture the cells in soft, gelatin-like polymers called hydrogels. They pattern the cells in the gel so they will self-assemble into muscle rings, attach the rings to 3D-printed "bones" to create the 7-millimeter-long, light-responsive bots, and then exercise biological machines to build strength called contractile forces. 

With an altered design, the bio-bots could be customized for specific applications. Researchers in McCloskey's School of Engineering lab are using similar technology to pattern stem cell-derived heart cells into a sheath of living cardiac tissue that could patch areas of human heart muscle that have been damaged by heart attacks. The sheath would contract and expand just like natural tissue does, in rhythm with the heart. But they must figure out how to integrate patterned synchronously contracting muscle with vasculature to supply blood, and so far, the two have not integrated well.

Ritu Raman, EBICS postdoctoral fellow at UIUC helped design and co-lecture the bio-bot course, focusing on teaching students how to use 3-D printers to design and build their own biological machines. "We see many potential applications for bio-bots ranging from healthcare to national defense to environmental cleanup," Raman said. However, the focus of the curriculum isn't on applications, but on teaching future engineers the fundamental design rules and principles of building with biology. "We want to introduce biological materials into the toolkit of the next generation of makers by giving them hands-on experience with bio-bot design and manufacture," Raman said.


- Adapted from the original article by Lorena Anderson, UC Merced University News

EBICS core principles: Ethics modules and Interdisciplinary modules are now fully updated on EBICS website!

Published: January 9, 2017

Ethics Modules

To date, EBICS has developed four Ethics Modules, which affiliates have presented to a wide range of audiences throughout the United States. Explore modules 1-4 on the EBICS website!

Interdisciplinary Modules

The major intellectual theme of EBICS is the integration of concepts from the applied fields of tissue-engineering, systems biology, and synthetic biology to: a) yield new analytical insights into emergent behaviors of integrated cellular systems and b) use this analytical framework as the basis to design and build new kinds of biological machines. 

Each of the applied fields of EBICS research integrates approaches from several established engineering and science disciplines; as a result, EBICS research is highly interdisciplinary in nature. The EBICS Education team has curated lectures from EBICS faculty to bridge potential gaps in technical knowledge experienced by students from disparate engineering and science backgrounds and to provide continuing education for EBICS undergraduates, graduate students and postdocs. Explore the interdisciplinary modules on the EBICS website! We will continue to update the series of lectures going forward. 

Prof. Laurie Boyer leads Journal Club discussion on "Developmental Engineering of Cell Fate Decisions"

Published: December 12, 2016

Dec. 12, 2016 - MIT hosted Journal Club where the EBICS community across 7 of its affiliated institutions and organizations tuned into Prof. Laurie Boyer's discussion of two papers "Mapping the Pairwise Choices Leading from Pluripotency to Human Bone, Heart, and Other Mesoderm Cell Types" and "Tissue Mechanics Orchestrate Wnt-Dependent Human Embryonic Stem Cell Differentiation" to illustrate the importance of developmental engineering of cell fate decisions. In the context of EBICS, developmental engineering determines parameters that underpin generations of specific and homogeneous cell types, allows identification of key markers for quantifying in vitro emergent behavior in real time, and provides a critical roadmap, both for inferring synthetic circuits driving cell specification and for generating functional 3D-cell systems. 

From "Mapping the Pairwise Choices Leading from Pluripotency to Human Bone, Heart, and Other Mesoderm Cell Types," Boyer highlighted:

  • Stepwise map of competing signals guiding mesoderm development
  • Efficient human mesoderm induction by blocking formation of unwanted fates
  • ESC-derived human bone progenitors and heart precursors engraft in vivo
  • A transient segmentation program in human embryogenesis marked by HOPX

From "Tissue Mechanics Orchestrate Wnt-Dependent Human Embryonic Stem Cell Differentiation," Boyer highlighted:

  • Compliant hydrogel substrates enhance mesoderm differentiation of human ESCs
  • Stabilization of adherens junctions primes hESCs for mesoderm differentiation
  • Junctional reorganization and Src activity promote nuclear translocation of b-catenin
  • On stiff gels, b-catenin degradation inhibits mesodermal differentiation

Missed it? Listen to the discussion now!

Stice Lab research featured on cover of Stem Cells and Development's 25th Anniversary issue

Published: December 6, 2016

Dec. 6, 2016 - The "Stice Stice Lab produces a neurodevelopment model with potential to accelerate research on Zika-related birth defects" feature story from the November 2016 EBICS Newsletter landed the cover feature of Stem Cells and Development's 25th Anniversary issue in support of their paper, "Zika Virus Induced Mortality and Microcephaly in Chicken Embryos." 

The research, led by Forrest Goodfellow, a 2012 EBICS REU student and mentored by professor Steven Stice since 2011, presents using a current circulating isolate of Zika virus, MEX1-44, to infect chick embryos, and results are analyzed to develop a neurodevelopmental chick model that could mimic the effects of Zika on the first trimester of pregnancy. This model demonstrates fetal death and brain damage in early chick embryos similar to microcephaly. While high dose infection resulted in embryo death, low dose infections resulted in a decrease in cortical volume. In addition, some embryos displayed structural malformations of the central nervous system, shown in the MRI image (boxed area) of a Zika-infected embryo at embryonic day 20. 


- Adapted from original caption provided by Dr. Melinda A. Brindley of the Department of Infectious Diseases, Population Health, Center for Vaccines and Immunology, and Dr. Steven L. Stice of the Regenerative Bioscience Center, University of Georgia

Caroline Cvetkovic completes her PhD at University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign

Published: December 2, 2016

Dec. 2, 2016 - Caroline Cvetkovic defended her dissertation, "Biological Building Blocks for 3D-Printed Cellular Systems," at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in front of peers and a defense committee of EBICS faculty members Rashid Bashir, Martha Gillette, Hyunjoon Kong, and Taher Saif. 

In Bashir Lab, Cvetkovic's research focused on the development of neuromuscular-controlled biological machines ("bio-bots"). The work combined aspects of 3D-printing, tissue-engineering, and soft robotics, and led to co-authorship on 7 publications and over 15 conference and seminar presentations.

Cvetkovic was funded by EBICS, as well as an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant from NSF, and the Support for Under-Represented Groups in Engineering (SURGE) fellowship at UIUC. Accomplishments throughout her graduate study include a Top Presentation nomination at the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Annual Meeting, an invitation to be a session co-chair at the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine (TERMIS) World Congress, an invitation to the Mechanobiology Institute at the National University of Singapore, and a certificate from the Clinical and Translational Research Course for PhD Students at the National Institutes of Health.

Throughout her time at UIUC, Cvetkovic participated in research pertaining to 3 separate NSF-funded centers and programs: EBICS, (IGERT), and Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST). She engaged young students in scientific experimentation at community outreach activities such as UIUC's Engineering Open House and Science at the Market. Additionally, she participated in activities of the Student Leadership Council, Girls' Adventures in Math, Engineering, and Science (G.A.M.E.S.) Camp, 1867 Society, Provost and Graduate College Student Advisory Board, and was a project manager at Learning in the Community (LINC) Partnership.

We would like to congratulate and recognize Dr. Caroline Cvetkovic on her many accomplishments, and we wish her great success as she moves forward in her career!

Lu Lab exposes masses of hidden traits and possible subtle genetic connections relevant to unseen influences on disease

Published: November 23, 2016

Nov. 23, 2016 - Hang Lu, EBICS faculty member at Georgia Tech, led researchers to develop algorithms and a special microscope slide to expose previously unseen neurological nuances and intricate mutations that may be behind them. Their findings, published in Nature Communications exposes some of the secrets behind gene mutations towards localizing genetic biomarkers for diseases in humans and understanding debilitating disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, and autoimmune disorders. 

In the Lu lab's latest experiment, researchers track the faintest phenotype changes in roundworms, chosen because their nerves share strong similarities with humans, by marking nerve proteins to appear as dots on roundworms' undersides for the computer to scan. When mutations occur, the dots can change ever so slightly. "To the naked eye, they're just dots on a dark background," Lu said. But the computer sees in them phenotypical shifts.

Lu's technique works via a transparent slide with tiny tubes that suck in one worm at a time under the computer's microscope. The scientists freeze the worm for a moment to take its picture, then unfreezes it. There's a fork in the tube holding the worm. If the algorithm detects a mutant based on its marked pattern in the image - even if this is not visible to the eye - the worm gets sucked down the first path for further study. If it isn't a mutant, it gets sucked down the second path. 

Using this technique, the scientists stumbled upon a very subtle allele - a variation of a gene caused by mutation. The worms that had the allele were real mutants, but to the eye, they were completely neat and normal. They even behaved normally at first glance, and the researchers thought the computer may have sorted them out as mutants by mistake -- until a hitch turned up. "After they swam for about 40 minutes, they got really, really weak and couldn't swim well anymore," Lu said. The allele seemed to be associated with some kind of neurological disorder.

"Seen as a metaphor, this is an example of how you might identify something that is relevant to a disease but incredibly subtle," Lu said, "and you would never have found it using eyes and a microscope." 

- Adapted from the original article by Ben Brumfield, Georgia Tech News Center

EBICS Research Experience for Undergraduates Summer 2017: Application NOW OPEN!

Published: November 18, 2016

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Center on Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS) invites all undergraduates who are U.S. citizens/permanent residents AND currently enrolled in a science/engineering undergraduate program to apply! We strongly encourage students from underrepresented minority groups, women, and individuals with disabilities to submit an application! Learn about what EBICS REU offers and APPLY! Deadline Friday February 17, 2017.

Professor Manu Platt receives "40 under 40" honor from Atlanta Business Chronicle

Published: November 3, 2016

Manu Platt, associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory, was recognized by the Atlanta area as one of 40 leaders under the age of 40 who have made significant career achievements and have demonstrated substantial involvement in community service.

One of Professor Platt's mottos is "think globally, act locally, then act globally." This has been enacted in his projects starting with developing a blood test to determine if HIV-positive patients in South Africa were adhering to their antiretroviral medication regimen. Through extension of this work, his lab started projects in Ethiopia, first on HIV-related studies, then later assisting with the training of Ethiopian graduate students to process cancer samples and characterize differences between tumors. 

At Georgia Tech, Platt has been hosting and mentoring high school students working in his lab under the Project ENGAGES (Engaging the Next Generation At Georgia Tech in Engineering and Science) program - now in its fourth year. This is a high school research program started with Professor Emeritus Bob Nerem that has brought through 60 African-American students from the Atlanta Public School system. 

- Adapted from original article by Walter Rich, GT News. Read to learn more about Professor Platt's work.

Carrie Kouadio showcases EBICS Knowledge Transfer efforts at National Science Teachers Association Conference

Published: October 27, 2016

Carrie Kouadio, EBICS Knowledge Transfer Program Manager, presented "Biological Machines: Bioengineering Activities for the Classroom" to over 50 educators at the National Science Teachers Association Conference in Minneapolis, MN. The teacher-focused presentation synthesizes the outreach work of EBICS trainees Brian Williams, Ritu Raman, Ghazal Naseri Kouzehgarani, Raymond Swetenburg, and EBICS faculty members Lizanne Destefano and Rashid Bashir. The potential health, security, and environmental applications of EBICS research were illustrated through demonstrations and interactive activities. Education resources developed by the team were shared with the participants, and included the light-simulated walking robot, biomimicry in a light-sensitive robot, soft robotics, emergent behaviors in complex systems, and the ethics modules. 

Kouadio also presented at the Illinois Science and Math Conference on October 7, 2016 with primarily science and math educators.

Popescu and Gillette Labs collaboration develop new imaging method to analyze dynamics of cellular systems

Published: October 26, 2016

Led by professor Gabriel Popescu and professor Martha Gillette, researchers at their respective labs, including former EBICS trainees Ru Wang, Basanta Baduri, Shamira Sridharan, Mustafa Mir, and Raj Iyer, developed a dye and chemical-free imaging method, phase correlation imaging (PCI), to track cells over long periods of time. PCI uses only light to reveal dynamics and provide insight into how cells function, develop and interact.

The study, published in Scientific Reports also uses PCI to look at how elements of the cell's internal skeleton structure guide transportation within the cell. Cells and their internal structures are transparent so researchers commonly use chemicals, like colored or fluorescent stains, to see structures inside cells, but chemicals can disrupt activity, or even poison the cell, and only work for a limited time, making it difficult to track normal cellular activity.

Because PCI only uses light, the researchers can scan a cell culture over and over, creating a timeline of movement within the cell and highlighting hotspots of activity. They can also tell the difference between quiescent cells, cells that are dormant but can become active again when stimulated, and senescent cells, older cells that have stopped dividing. The distinction is important, because quiescent cells are crucial for healing and repair after injury, but are difficult to see without specific chemical labels.

The researchers are now applying PCI to study neurons. They hope to witness emergent behavior, such as neurons in a culture beginning to talk to each other and stem cells developing into neurons. Later on, they plan to apply these dynamic maps to large tissues, such as embryos, brain slices and whole organisms, like worms, to watch development.

- Adapted from original article by Liz Ahlberg Touchstone, UIUC News Bureau

Stice Lab produces neurodevelopmental model with potential to accelerate research on Zika-related birth defects

Published: October 19, 2016

Forrest Goodfellow, a 2012 EBICS REU student and mentored by professor Steven Stice since 2011, has been leading a team at University of Georgia's Regenerative Bioscience Center (RBC) since 2015 to develop a neurodevelopmental chick model that could mimic the effects of Zika on the first trimester of pregnancy. This model demonstrates fetal death and brain damage in early chick embryos similar to microcephaly -- a rare birth defect linked to the Zika virus, now alarming health experts worldwide.

Chick embryos have significant similarity to human fetal neurodevelopment and rapid embryonic process: "We wanted a complete animal model, closely to that of a human, which would recapitulate the microcephaly phenotype," said Goodfellow, who has worked extensively with eggs and chickens. In a previous project with Stice and Dr. Qun Zhao, the team developed a unique approach of marrying stem cell biology and MRI to track and label neural stem cells. Using the neurodevelopment chick model, researchers can take a closer look at a multitude of different Zika strains and possibly identify the critical window of susceptibility for Zika virus-induced birth defects, allowing further design and testing of therapeutic efficacy. 

Goodfellow presented the findings at the 2016 Southern Translational Education and Research (STaR) Conference. The team's research was also recently featured on WSB-ATL (ABC) news, and the team will be designing the cover of Stem Cells and Development's November 2016 issue.

- Adapted from the original article by Charlene Betourney, UGA Today

Ritu Raman completes her PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Published: October 17, 2016

Ritu Raman defended her dissertation, entitled "3D Printed Muscle-Powered Bio-Bots," with co-advisors Rashid Bashir and Taher Saif. Her committee members included Gabriel Popescu and Hyun Joon Kong. "We have developed and optimized novel stereolithographic 3D printing technologies as enabling tools for 'building with biology.' Using these 3D printers, we have forward-engineered biohybrid robots, or bio-bots, capable of complex controllable locomotion in response to a range of dynamic environmental signals. We anticipate that, in collaboration with the EBICS community, we can design bio-bots that target the next generation of grand engineering challenges," Raman explains.

In her time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Raman has been very productive and engaged. To highlight a selection of her recognitions, in 2016, she became the most published graduate student in the Mechanical Science and Engineering Graduate Program, and won 1st Place in the ThinkChicago: Lollapalooza Civic Tech Challenge. In 2015, she won the Illinois Innovation 15K Prize. She was awarded the NSF GRFP in 2014 and the NSF IGERT fellowship in 2012. 

Throughout her involvement with EBICS, Raman has been a valuable contributor to the SLC and to science outreach efforts to the public. As a lecturer for the Bioengineering course "Biofabrication Lab," Raman designed and co-lectured a course focused on teaching the fundamental design rules and principles of building biological machines. In this capacity, she disseminated a novel course curriculum and core philosophy of "building with biology" to instructors at partner institutions around the nation.

We would like to congratulate and recognize Dr. Ritu Raman on her many accomplishments, and we wish her great success as she moves forward in her career!

Professor Paula Hammond elected to the National Academy of Medicine

Published: October 17, 2016

Paula Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor in Engineering and head of MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering, has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) in recognition of her distinguished contributions to medicine and health. Membership in the NAM is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements and commitment to service. 

Professor Hammond, a member of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and a founding member of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, focuses on biomaterials and drug delivery, particularly the self-assembly of polymeric nanomaterials.The core of Hammond's work is the use of electrostatics, including a technique known as layer-by-layer assembly, to generate functional materials with highly controlled architectures. These materials are used to deliver drugs for cancer and regenerative medicine, including treatments for wound healing and bone repair. Some of her recent efforts include targeted nanomedicine approaches to address resistant cancers, such as advanced ovarian cancer. She has worked with clinicians and researchers at various Boston-area hospitals, and she and members of her lab have been involved with a range of biotech companies.  

- Adapted from original article by Anne Trafton, MIT News. Read to learn more about Professor Hammond's awards and accomplishments.

Brian Williams earns EBICS Knowledge Transfer Award

Published: October 11, 2016

Brian Williams, EBICS trainee based out of Saif Lab at UIUC, was recognized for his efforts in Knowledge Transfer, "For Leadership in Communicating Science to the Public." Brian was also awarded with $500 in recognition of his creativity, leadership, and hard work in STEM outreach. Brian has played a major role in the success of EBICS outreach activities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign such as Engineering Open House and Science at the Market. He has developed many of the activities now utilized in presentations for teachers to teach the public about EBICS research. Thank you Brian, for all your efforts!

Left to right: Marc Shuler, Steven Pirvu, Ken Brandon, Prof. Manu Platt, Alyssa Mendenhall, Kwasi Amofa

EBICS REU alumni present their research at 2016 Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Annual Meeting

Published: October 8, 2016

EBICS REU alumni Marc Shuler, Steven Pirvu, Alyssa Mendenhall, and Kwasi Amofa, and Georgia Tech SURE alumnus Ken Brandon presented their research at 2016 BMES annual meeting in Minneapolis, MN and were active participants in the many organized activities throughout the 4-day conference. While presenting among 800+ other posters, the EBICS representatives were confident in discussing their research with others: "[We] had a blast at BMES! I met some interesting people and (hopefully) successfully talked to potential graduate professors. I also learned a lot from the sessions." says Mendenhall. Pirvu enthused about the networking potential granted: "BMES was great! I presented on the final day, and a few professors came up to give me their business cards!". All expressed gratitude for the EBICS support to make their attendance at the conference possible, and the advocacy towards their future goals.

Simone Douglas receives Sloan Fellowship

Published: August 26, 2016

Aug. 26, 2016 - Simone Douglas was named as a 2016 Sloan Scholar as part of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's Minority Ph.D. (MPHD) Program. Simone is a 2nd year Ph.D. student, mentored by Prof. Manu Platt, in the biomedical engineering program at Georgia Tech and Emory University. In EBICS, she is a member of the Student Leadership Council (SLC) and is currently researching alternative fibrinolysis pathways in the Vascularization Working Group, to characterize and control fibrin degradation in vascularized constructs. 

The Sloan Foundation was created in 1995 to "assist efforts to diversify the U.S. Ph.D. degree-holding workforce by increasing the recruitment, retention, and graduation of underrepresented minority doctoral students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics." This year's applicant pool was strong and competitive; only eight students were selected from Georgia Tech to be nominated to the Sloan Foundation. Congratulations Simone!

Clare Ko receives training grant, The Tissue Microenvironment (TiMe) Training Program, supported by NIH

Published: August 25, 2016

Aug. 25, 2016 - Clare Ko, EBICS trainee at UIUC mentored by Prof. Hyunjoon Kong, was selected from a strong applicant pool across UIUC to receive one of eight TiMe Training Program grants, which awards recipients up to two years of funding from the NIH, and provides recipients with curricular, extracurricular, professional development, and career development activities. The TiMe Training program aims to integrate three technological approaches: sensing and imaging to measure biochemical and biophysical parameters, bioengineering to recapitulate the tissue microenvironment, and computational modeling. Currently, Clare contributes to two EBICS Working Groups: Pump-Bot, in which her project is assembling a self-activated pump system that can transfer fluid, and Neuron-Muscle, in which she is engineering NMJ in vitro using nano-patterned substrates. Congratulations Clare!

Cali Callaway acknowledges her experiences working in the Stice and Kamm labs for shaping her academic trajectory

Published: August 14, 2016

Aug. 14, 2016 - As a freshman, Cali joined Prof. Stice's lab to work on the development of a neural tube injury model in chickens incorporating mouse pluripotent stem cells, then spent summer 2015 after her sophomore year at MIT in Prof. Kamm's lab to research a microfluidics platform for the study of neuromuscular junction formation. In her profile for UGA's "Amazing Students" column, Cali expresses gratitude to the Stice and Kamm labs for the skill-building opportunities they provided her, and commends Dr. Stice's mentorship throughout her time at UGA. Now starting her senior year, Cali plans on attending medical school in Fall 2017.

Meghan Ferrall-Fairbanks and Dayne West lead teams to receive top prize at PrePARE Professional Development Workshop

Published: August 13, 2016

Aug. 7-12, 2016 - EBICS trainees Meghan Ferrall-Fairbanks (GT), Nicole Madfis (UC Merced), Tanya Singh (CCNY), and Dayne West (GT) attended the Paths Afforded by the Research Enterprise (PrePARE) Professional Development Workshop in Indianapolis, IN. During this week-long workshop, trainee representatives from all the NSF STCs were taught a wide range of important professional skills, including communicating your science in presentations and interviews, creating individualized development plans, and dining interview etiquette, to succeed in both academic and industrial careers. In addition to these skills, participants divided into six multi-institutional interdisciplinary teams to each write an NSF RFA proposal to address a grand challenge. Meghan's team proposed to develop a new biomaterial that can be used to protect against coastal erosion. Dayne's team proposed improvements to the reduce-reuse-recycle triangle, by making all plastics recyclable. After all six teams presented their proposals, Meghan and Dayne's teams were selected as winners of the Amazon gift card prize. Congratulations to both!

Brian Williams completes his PhD at University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign

Published: August 8, 2016

Aug. 8, 2016 - Brian Williams defended his dissertation "Low Reynolds Number Biohybrid Swimming" at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in front of advisor, Taher Saif, and the rest of his defense committee Hyunjoon Kong, Rhanor Gillette, and Gabriel Juarez.

In Saif Lab, Williams built multicellular biohybrid machines with networks of neurons and myocytes, including a flagellar swimmer that uses the contractions of one to several cardiac myocytes to generate propulsion at low Reynolds number. To achieve the goal of using the complex internal machinery of the eukaryotic cell to build programmable, self-powered, biohybrid robotics, Williams also microfabricated characterizable, compliant platforms to probe specific biological mechanisms, such as the role of mechanical coupling in the collective behavior of large populations of cardiac myocytes. Finally, he analyzed and studied vesicle dynamics in various cell types, and used their transport characteristics to probe the intracellular environment. 

Williams was one of EBICS's most prolific developers of outreach demonstrations, used in community events in Champaign, to present core EBICS research concepts, highlights of which include the soft robotics inchworm, the optogenetic bot, and most recently, the Elementary Braitenberg vehicle.

Congratulations to Dr. Brian Williams, who is currently a mechanical engineer at Lam Research in Portland Oregon, and we wish him great success as he moves forward in his career!

MIT REU engages in Poster Session and Closing Luncheon of 30th Annual MIT Summer Research Programs

Published: August 4, 2016

Aug. 4, 2016 - Upon returning from the 2016 EBICS Annual Retreat, MIT REU immediately began preparations to present their research two days later at the 30th Annual MIT Summer Research Programs Poster Session. 103 students across 4 summer research programs at MIT, including EBICS, discussed their research with, and fielded questions from, a diverse audience of peers, faculty, mentors, graduate students, distinguished guests, staff, and program alumni that altogether formed an audience of ~250 guests. At the Closing Luncheon, Minerva Marcano had the honor of introducing the Keynote Speaker, Dr. Christopher Jones, who served as the Assistant Dean for Graduate Education at MIT for nearly a decade.

Goals and impacts of the 1st International Workshop on Engineering Living Systems

Published: August 4, 2016

Aug. 3-4, 2016 - The 1st International Workshop on Engineering Living Systems convened a cadre of 60 forward-looking thought-leaders across a variety of expertise including: industry, stem cell biology, developmental biology, synthetic biology, tissue chip engineering, robotics, and ethics, whose primary goal is the exploration of the ethical and research implications that arise from the EBICS mission to develop the capability to design, engineer and produce complex integrated cellular systems or "biological machines" that solve real-world problems in health, security, and the environment.

Critical to the successful design of such engineered cellular systems is a fundamental understanding of the interactions between cells and their environment, their control by biochemical and mechanical cues, and the coordinated behavior of functional cell clusters. Examples range from biological robots to organs-on-a-chip, and have broad applications across medicine, manufacturing, agriculture, and energy management, among other disciplines. Whether we achieve this through a "bottom-up" or a "top-down" approach, the basic cellular building blocks can all be derived from pluripotent sources.

In discussing the ethical and research implications of these complex biological interactions, the emergent behaviors they produce, and the ultimate creation of biological machines engineered to perform specific, targeted functions, 2016 Workshop participants agreed to leverage the following broader impacts:

  • A position paper on Engineered Living Systems for wide dissemination
  • A proposal for a new EFRI call on:
    • Advanced manufacturing processes for multicellular machines
    • Reduced functionality cells for ELSs
  • New collaborations and potential partnerships
  • Avenues for continuing EBICS activities
  • Transitioning to a regular meeting (e.g. GRC)
  • Possibility for a new journal
  • Recruiting EBICS Distinguished Visiting Scholars
  • Forging new international collaborations (a "virtual center")
  • Providing trainees a broader perspective of EBICS-centric activities worldwide

The Workshop on Engineering Living Systems will tentatively next assemble in 2018.


Highlights from the 2016 EBICS Annual Retreat

Published: August 3, 2016

July 31 - Aug. 2, 2016 - 87 members of the EBICS community including faculty, trainees, REUs, External Advisory Committee (EAC), Industry Advisory Committee (IAC), and staff, participated in the 2016 EBICS Annual Retreat at the Q Center in St. Charles, IL. Highlights of the Retreat include:

  • Presentations on diversity and education in EBICS, the Student Leadership Council (SLC), and all seven working group research presentations
  • Natasha Arora and Marianna Sofman's presentation of their Technology Conceptualization Plan
  • Discussion of Ethics Module 4: Emergent Behavior
  • Trainee and REU poster presentations
  • Discussion within working group breakout sessions
  • Keynote Address by Dr. Kristin Fabre, AstraZeneca

For your entertainment - watch the trainee & REU Knockerball activity! Video courtesy of Simone Douglas.

Sebastien Uzel led development of a microfluidic device that replicates the connection between muscles and nerves

Published: August 3, 2016

Aug. 3, 2016 - During his graduate studies at MIT, Sebastien Uzel, now a postdoc at Harvard, led the work on creating a quarter-sized microfluidic device, that allows researchers to influence and observe the interactions between the muscle tissue and motor neurons within a realistic, three-dimensional matrix. 

Previously, to simulate the neuromuscular junction in the lab, researchers grew muscle and nerve cells in shallow Petri dishes or on small glass substrates. To recreate more realistic in vitro neuromuscular junctions, Uzel and his colleagues, which includes EBICS faculty Prof. Roger Kamm, Prof. Laurie Boyer, and former EBICS trainee Vincent Chan, fabricated two important features in their microfluidic device: a three-dimensional environment, and compartments that separate muscles from nerves to mimic their natural separation in the human body. The researchers suspended muscle and neuron cells in the millimeter-sized compartments, which they then filled with gel to mimic a three-dimensional environment.

The research results, published online in Science Advances, may help scientists understand and identify drugs to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), as well as other neuromuscular-related conditions, and could even be tailored to individual patients.

Sebastien and his coauthors have submitted a patent application for their microfluidic device.

- Adapted from the original article by Jennifer Chu, MIT News