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A living retina fragment on a chip, working as a model for the eye, will enable eye disease research, as well as the development of personalized treatment strategies. Researcher Andries van der Meer of the University of Twente expects that using an ‘eye-on-a-chip’, less invasive treatment can be found for worsening eyesight caused by ‘macular degeneration’. On 5 and 6 July, technologists, stem cell specialists, industry and patient representatives will come together in DesignLab University of Twente, for further exploring the potential of this new technology and formulate a common research agenda for the coming years.
Organ-on-a-chip systems are emerging rapidly: they will be capable of mimicking the functionality of an entire organ, by using just a tiny part of it on a microchip with fluid channels. Via these channels, it is possible to supply the mini organ with nutrients, and medication can be added for testing as well. Researchers of the University of Twente already booked good results with arteries, heart muscle and the liver. Although the retina has a layered structure with complex fluid regulation, and it consumes a lot of energy, its function can be mimicked on a chip as well. This is thanks to nanotechnology of MESA+ and to stem cell technology, making it possible to culture retina tissue using patients’ stem cells. This strongly personalizes diagnostics and therapy.
UT researcher Andries van der Meer of the Applied Stem Cell Technologies group (part of UT’s new TechMed Centre) would like to use the eye-on-a-chip technology for macular generation, an eye disease that mainly occurs at higher ages. The degeneration of the retina starts in the ‘yellow spot’, the macula, in the centre of the retina. Current treatment consists of regular injections in the eye, which is invasive and stressful. On a chip, several alternatives can be compared without the need of patient testing, even with less animal trials. Van der Meer already cooperates with the eye specialists of the Radboudumc hospital in Nijmegen on this, now he wants to involve more medical professionals.
Involve patients as well
For exploring the full potential of this technology and set up a five year research agenda, a workshop on 5 and 6 July brings together all stakeholders: technologists, stem cell experts, eye specialists, industry and patient representatives. In this workshop, technology aspects will be discussed as well as the medical prerequisites, all the way to new business and the patients’ perspective. To bring together all these different disciplines, DesignLab developed a method called Science2Design4Society: participants inspire each other in creative sessions, and discuss new ways of introducing technology in society.
Van der Meer expects that this workshop lays the foundations for a strong consortium, with a joint vision that matches national and European research agendas like the Nationale Wetenschapsagenda in The Netherlands.