Retina-On-A-Chip To Transform Eye Diseases Treatments & Drug Effects

Retina-On-A-Chip could be a possible tool to transform Eye diseases treatments & Drug Effects

A new study on the development of a retina-on-a-chip, that combines the living human cells with an artificial tissue-like system, has been described today in the open-access journal eLife.

This cutting-edge tool of retina-on-a-chip may provide a useful alternative to the existing models used for studying various eye diseases and allow researchers to test the effects of these medicines on the retina more efficiently.

Retina-on-a-chip could be a possible tool to transform Eye diseases treatments & Drug Effects
Organ-on-a-chip system. Credit: Fraunhofer

Many eye diseases that cause blindness harm the retina, which is a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye that helps to collect light and relay visual information to the brain cells. The retina is also vulnerable to the harmful side effects of medicines used to treat other diseases like cancer.

Researchers often relied on animals or retina organoids i.e, tiny retina-like structures grown from human stem cells, to study various eye diseases and their medicine side effects. But the results from studies in both of the models often fail to describe the disease and medicine’s effects in people accurately. As a result, a research team has tried to recreate a retina for testing purposes

using engineering techniques which is the retina-on-a-chip platform.

Christopher Probst is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology in Stuttgart, Germany. Probst, the co-lead author of the current study explained that it is extremely challenging, if not almost impossible, to recapitulate the complex tissue architecture of the human retina solely using engineering approaches.

In order to overcome these challenges, the researchers coaxed human pluripotent stem cells to develop into several different types of retina cells on an artificial tissue. This tissue recreates the environment that cells would experience in the body and also delivers nutrients and medicines to the cells through a system that mimics the function of human blood vessels.

Kevin Achberger who is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Neuroanatomy & Developmental Biology at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, Germany, said that the combination of approaches enabled researchers to successfully create a complex multi-layer structure which includes all cell types and even layers present in retinal organoids, connected to a retinal pigment epithelium layer. Achberger, the co-lead author of the study, added that it is the first demonstration of a 3D retinal model that recreates many of the structural characteristics of the human retina and they behaves in a similar way.

The research team treated their retina-on-the-chip with the anti-malaria drug chloroquine and the antibiotic gentamicin, which are toxic to the retina. Researchers found that the medicines had a toxic effect on the retinal cells in the model which suggests that it could be a useful tool for testing for harmful drug effects on the retina.

As stated in Medical Express – Achberger added that one of the advantages of this retina-on-the-chip tiny model is that it could be used as part of an automated system to test hundreds of drugs for their harmful effects on the retina very quickly. Also, this might enable researchers to take stem cells from a specific patient and study both the disease and its potential treatments in that individual’s own cells.

Peter Loskill, Assistant Professor for Experimental Regenerative Medicine at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, and head of the Fraunhofer Attract group Organ-on-a-Chip at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology, said that the retina-on-the-chip new approach  combines two promising technologies i.e, organoids and organ-on-a-chip and these approaches have the potential to revolutionize drug development and usher in a new era of personalized medicine. Peter’s laboratory, which spans the two institutes, is already developing similar organ-on-a-chip technology for the heart, fat, pancreas and more.

Ria Roy
Ria Roy completed her Post Grad degree at the Visvesvaraya Technological University. She has a great grounding in the skills, including technical, analytical and research skills. She is a motivated life science professional with experience of working in famous research institutes