Organ-on-chip model of the retina with human stem cells

PLURIMACULA: Human pluripotent stem cell-derived organ-on-chip model of the outer blood-retinal barrier to target disease mechanisms in age-related macular degeneration

In the PLURIMACULA project, the aim is to develop a microengineered organ-on-chip model of the outer barrier tissue of the retina. The project brings together a consortium of engineers, stem cell biologists, geneticists and clinicians from Dutch universities and university medical centers. They will team up with Boehringer Ingelheim, a research-driven pharmaceutical company, to carry out this innovative project. If successful, the project will yield a new tool for drug testing that relies fully on human material, not on laboratory animals. The project is supported by the Dutch Society for the Replacement of Animal Testing.

Eighteen million people in Europe suffer from vision loss or blindness due to age-related macular degeneration. The total number of patients world-wide is expected to grow to 196 million by 2020, with a projected associated annual healthcare cost of 284 billion euros. New preventive and curative treatment strategies are strongly needed, and for this, patient-relevant disease models will be essential.

The key tissue that is affected in age-related macular degeneration is the outer barrier of the retina. The tissue consists of multiple cell types, with various layers of cells and interacting blood vessel networks. In this project, they will use organ-on-chip technology to mimic the intricate structure of this tissue in a controlled, microengineered laboratory model. Importantly, they will build the model exclusively using human stem cell-derived tissue, thereby allowing them to ‘personalise’ the model, specifically by using stem cells derived from patients.

By the end of the project, the consortium has engineered the first prototype of the organ-on-chip based on patient stem cells, and they have found that indeed: tissues from patient stem cells capture key disease processes from age-related macular degeneration.

Eighteen million people in Europe suffer from vision loss caused by age-related macular degeneration. In this project, aspects of this disease will be captured in a micro-engineered laboratory model with retinal tissue derived from patient stem cells. If successful, this project will enable future animal-free testing of new drug treatments.
Technology Readiness Level (TRL)
2 - 4
Time period
21 months