I obtained my master’s degree from Radboud University Nijmegen in the program of Molecular Mechanisms of Disease. In this program, I did internships in droplet microfluidics and organ-on-a-chip technology. Afterwards, I carried out my PhD project in the Applied Stem Cell Technologies and BIOS Lab-on-a-chip Group of the University of Twente sponsored by Stichting TWIN. The project focused on the development of an organ-on-a-chip platform for the outer blood-retinal barrier composed of cells with clinically relevant readouts for vascular structures and tissue permeability as a tool to investigate age-related macular degeneration. I incorporated and optimized assays for investigating the conditions for healthy and disease states of cells in our devices together with our collaborators. I am now currently advancing this platform. Ultimately these organ-on-a-chip platforms would be used for personalized drug development.
Visual impairment significantly affects life quality of patients, rendering them unable to perform simple everyday tasks. Visual impairment and blindness are already major direct and indirect burdens on healthcare which is expected to increase in the coming decades. Among blindness, age related macular degeneration (AMD) is currently the most common cause of blindness in elderly in western societies. The key tissue that is affected in AMD is the macula, which is a specialized region in the retina with the highest metabolic demands. Due to this, it is prone to dysfunction through decades of aging. It is not certain which series of exact events lead to the initiation and progression of AMD. However, it is multi-factorial where genetic and environmental factors are in play. Its most aggressive form, wet-AMD, is characterized by choroidal neovascularization (CNV), in which new blood vessels invade the normal tissue barriers of the outer retina from the underlying choroidal blood vessels. These vessels easily hemorrhage and eventually leak their contents below and within the retina, which leads to degeneration of photoreceptors in the macula. To better understand the disease pathology of AMD, experimental models are required in which the morphological changes of the tissues can easily be observed and experimental conditions can be readily manipulated.
In recent decades, thanks to microfluidics and microfabrication technologies, in vitro modelling platforms evolved into organ-on-a-chip (OOC) devices. These devices comprise individually perfused microchannels inhabited by living cells to create a realistic simulation of a tissue or organ of interest. We demonstrated that OOCs may offer unique opportunities to model AMD and to study new potential treatments for this debilitating disease. Here, we provide a model of the outer blood retinal barrier in an organ-on-a-chip (OOC) device for investigation of age related macular degeneration (AMD), using this device we can incorporate tissue barrier permeability and monitor vascular structures using clinically relevant readouts.