The broad vision for this project is to develop new tools for future biomanufacturing through cross-cutting collaborations of scientists—chemists, biologists, physicians, and engineers—united by the immense opportunity of building functional materials with, and within, biological life. The proposed methodologies establish the biomanufacturing toolbox for genetically-targeted chemical synthesis of a variety of functional materials within living cells, tissues and animals. Diverse cell-specific chemical syntheses enable a broad array of functional characteristics and assembled structures. In the long term, such techniques enable building electronics directly within biological systems by harnessing the complex assembly structures within cells. The application of these techniques to develop the capability to create new conductive pathways within the brain may lead to rewiring of neural circuits. Moreover, genetically-targeting the peripheral nerve may allow cell-specific nerve stimulation and recording for neuroprosthesis. Further investigation of the deposited material on neural activity may lead to treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or selectively repair demyelinated areas for treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS). Even though current work only focuses on basic tool development and initial understanding of the impact of the modifications on neural activities, the tools can be potentially expanded to diverse cell types for therapeutics and creation of new materials and assemblies. This project offers direct training opportunities for the students and postdocs involved in terms of research as well as important skills for interdisciplinary collaboration. These trainees subsequently further the development of biomanufacturing and their method of collaboration by running their own independent research groups in academia or by incorporating their knowledge into future industrial developments. A Training Core program in this project provides hands-on training on basic biomanufacturing techniques for hundreds of students, instructors and researchers.

Despite existing ability to engineer materials with diverse form and functionality, a high-level of structural and functional complexity found in multicellular living systems are still challenging to realize. The capability of genetically targeting enzymes and other proteins to specific cell types has yet to be harnessed to direct complex assembly of functional structures instructed by biological systems. This project integrates the fields of molecular genetics, tissue biology, chemistry, and materials science in unprecedented ways to transform the biomanufacturing of complex structures. The project focuses on building novel structures in vivo, creating natural and unnatural polymers within targeted cell-types of living organisms. This approach is extended to the development of a universal shared methodology for targeted chemistry within living beings. The work proposed focuses on developing and applying novel toolboxes for diverse genetically-targeted synthetic processes while engineering for biocompatibility, characterizing the synthesized molecules/materials, and understanding the mechanisms and implications of forming synthetic materials for eliciting natural and novel biological functions.

This award is co-funded by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems and the Division of Chemistry, and also by the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships, the Division of Engineering Education and Centers, and the Division of Materials Research.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB)
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David Rockcliffe
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Stanford University
United States
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