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Lab-created 'organ-on-a-chip'

07/03/2018By Matthew Woodley
A device containing living cells that mimic the structural and physiological conditions of the blood-retinal barrier has been developed by scientists from the Microelectronics Institute of Barcelona (IMB).

The microfluidic chip will enable researchers to test molecules in vitro and better study diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, as it will mimic tissues and organ functions in conditions very close to reality. It will also reduce the need for animal testing and should help to accelerate clinical trials.

The device, called an ‘organ-on-a-chip’, is composed of multiple parallel compartments that emulate the retinal layer structure. Each compartment holds a certain type of cultured cells, such as endothelial cells and retinal pigmented epithelial cells, which form the outer layer of the blood-retinal barrier.

The organ-on-a-chip.
The organ-on-a-chip.

“The compartments are interconnected by a grid of microgrooves under the cells, with which cells can exchange signal molecules and therefore communicate between them. As a result, substances produced by some cells can reach the other cells, generating cellular communication and interaction like in a living organ,” study author Mr Jose Yeste said.

“Also, the device enables us to expose endothelial cells to the particular mechanical conditions, like the ones induced by the blood stream.”

According to study co-author Dr Rafael Simó, the most significant impact of the device is that it mimics what happens in vivo in the retina and can therefore boost in vitro experimentation.

“On the device, the cells grow constantly when in contact with a fluid, as happens in the human retina. Also, the cells keep a close interaction between themselves by chemical mediators, which makes it possible to see what happens in one type of cell when another type of cell nearby is harmed. Also, it is possible to measure electrical resistance with which to assess the functionality of the retinal neurons,” Simó said.

The device will be used to study the effects of molecules or harming conditions on the retina, while the team also wants to use it to study diabetic retinopathy.


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