Our scientific community faces numerous challenges as we strive to develop the capability to design, engineer and produce complex, multi-cellular engineered living systems (M-CELS). These systems might arise from guided differentiation of a cluster of pluripotent cells, drawing upon the capabilities to apply chemical, physical, or electrical cues to direct co-differentiation, as well as the intrinsic, natural capabilities of cell populations to produce functional interactions through emergence. Or they can be engineered, starting with a high-level conceptual design, leading to the specification of components consisting of cell clusters, each comprised of phenotypically distinct cell types. The clusters might be capable of sensing, actuation and information processing that could be combined to create multi-functional machines. The basic building blocks, the cells, can generally be derived from pluripotent sources.
As these technical capabilities and scientific understanding grow, it is critical to address the full scope of M-CELS research and applications, their manufacture, their eventual impact on the international economy and US competitiveness, their standardization and regulation, and the ethical issues that will inevitably arise. This includes issues such as standards and elements of a pragmatic system for M-CELS, such as regulations and policy, economics and international competitiveness, and clinical and translational research.
This workshop will bring together many of the leaders in the field to explore the technical, ethical, and societal challenges of building M-CELS. This workshop will build on the success of two previous smaller NSF workshops on M-CELS in 2016 and 2018. In the time since these workshops, significant research advances have been made, paving the way for more practical conversations around issues such as regulation, public engagement, and manufacturing. A primary goal of this event will be to build capacity for societally-responsible M-CELS research and translation by convening targeted conversations around existing and entirely new applications, design principles, manufacture, ethics, policy, communication, diversity, manufacturing, and regulation. We anticipate that participation in the workshop will lead to cross-disciplinary collaborations among attendees and a shared understanding of the path forward for M-CELS.