INTELLECTUAL MERIT: The cellular microenvironment plays a crucial role in normal development by guiding stem-cell fate and tissue organization, but it may also contribute to pathological processes such as tumor progression and metastasis. The need for interdisciplinary approaches for deconstructing the cellular microenvironment is becoming more widely recognized, with materials scientists and engineers well positioned to advance our understanding of complex biological systems. The symposium will provide an overview of current research aimed at determining how complex biological components work together to shape physiological outcomes and to develop strategies for manipulating these processes for clinical applications. These examples will demonstrate how engineering principles are well suited for advancing our understanding of biology and the power of interdisciplinary research for tackling complex biological systems. The goal of this symposium is to expand participation and promote new interactions by bringing together researchers with a common biological interest, namely, understanding cellular microenvironments. By including a common biological theme, researchers will gain a broader perspective of the ways in which different types of chemical and mechanical cues influence cells and the techniques that enable that information to be collected. Due to the variety of techniques that will be discussed within the symposium, there will be numerous opportunities to capture the interest to the broader materials science community, e.g., microfluidics, nanomaterials, polymers.
BROADER IMPACTS: The symposium provides a highly interactive program that promotes the sharing of ideas and opportunities for development of new collaborations. It brings to bear the perspectives of researchers from both the biological and engineering communities in order to improve communication between them and to develop and refine strategies for going forward. The organizers have also given significant attention to pursuit of NSF priorities. Women and other underrepresented groups are a predominant component of the invited speaker list in order to encourage diversity within the engineering community. Altogether at least 13 of the 16 invited speakers are women and/or minorities. NSF funds will be used to support the attendance of two junior faculty members, two postdoctoral students, four graduate students, and two undergraduate students.
for biological and medical applications. This symposium aimed to illustrate the challenges presented by the complexity of biology and highlight the creative ways in which engineers approach deconstructing cancer and stem cell microenvironments. Our mix of speakers successfully addressed a wide range of topics of interest to the community, including challenges associated with translating ideas to commercial and clinical applications and examples of how engineers provide important benefits for studying cutting edge biology. 2. To provide students, postdocs, and junior faculty with opportunities to directly interact with, learn from, and present their ideas to world class leaders in the biomedical community. A particular goal that we aimed to address with this symposium was to provide examples of how researchers from underrepresented groups (particularly women) have not only thrived, but have become some of the most influential leaders in biomedical engineering. The symposium was well-represented by women and minorities, including many of the leading experts in biology and biomedical engineering. 3. To provide biological insight and perspective from leaders in the biological community. Our aim was to provide an opportunity for engineers to gain perspective about important unsolved questions related to the microenvironment and to interact with leaders in biology to help stimulate new ideas within the engineering community and to demonstrate to biologists how engineering strategies could benefit them. Helen Blau was our keynote speaker and provided an excellent example of how one of the leading researchers in stem cell biology has benefitted from interactions with materials scientists and engineers. 4. To provide a forum for scientists within the bioengineering community to share ideas and connect to the broader materials science community. Materials science researchers are experts in controlling and measuring materials at all conceivable scales, expertise that enables creative collaborative efforts aimed at tackling larger problems in biology and medicine in new ways. MRS provided an ideal forum for promoting new collaborative interactions aimed at taking advantage of cutting edge materials science research, and many participants spent time chatting about ideas during breaks and after sessions.