Gartner to co-direct new UCSF-based Center for Cellular Construction

UCSF School of Pharmacy faculty member Zev Gartner, PhD, will be co-director of a new multi-institution UCSF-administered Center for Cellular Construction, which has been awarded a five-year $24 million grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The new center’s research will unite scientists from diverse fields to adapt tools from engineering, the physical sciences, and computer science to design automated machines out of living cells. Wallace Marshall, PhD, of the UCSF School of Medicine, will be director of the new center, and Wendell Lim, PhD, of the School of Medicine will be co-director along with Gartner.

“The notion of engineering biology is very different from what other engineers think about,” said Gartner, a faculty member in the School’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. “It’s not chipping pieces off a block or snapping components together—biological systems are self-organizing, and that presents both a great challenge and an incredible opportunity.

“If we could engineer biology like we currently engineer cars or factories, the implications would be limitless,” he said. “Imagine self-assembling materials—chemical plants that could adapt to process multiple different feedstocks or respond to changing environmental conditions, or medicines that could go after diseases in smart ways.

“What’s more, understanding the fundamentals of how cells change and adapt could give us better abilities to look at diseased tissues and figure out what’s going wrong based on how the cells are behaving.”

The Gartner Lab studies how body tissues form structures via cellular self-organization, how such tissue structure helps organize collective cell behavior, and how it breaks down during the progression of diseases like cancer. He pioneers new methods to rapidly and precisely build complex 3-D human tissues in order to study basic biology and test therapeutics.

The newly funded center will include researchers from San Francisco State University, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and IBM Research–Almaden. The center will also partner with the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco and local high schools to bring excitement about synthetic biology to the general public.


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About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy is a premier graduate-level academic organization dedicated to improving health through precise therapeutics. It succeeds through innovative research, by educating PharmD health professional and PhD science students, and by caring for the therapeutics needs of patients while exploring innovative new models of patient care. The School was founded in 1872 as the first pharmacy school in the American West. It is an integral part of UC San Francisco, a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide.