Scientists Emulate The Human Blood-Retinal Barrier on a Microfluidic Chip

Source: Autonomous University of Barcelona

Summary: A team of scientists has developed a microfluidic device that mimics the human blood-retinal barrier.

For many years, scientists have been seeking ways to reduce animal testing and accelerate clinical trials. As an alternative, invitro assays with living cells have come into the picture but with limitations – interconnection and interaction between cells cannot be easily reproduced. To overcome the limitations scientists are developing systems that mimic tissues and organ functions in conditions very close to reality. These so-called “organ-on-chip” devices include micro-environments and micro-architectures that emulate living organs and tissues. A research team from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spanish Council for Scientific Research, CIBER-BBN and the Institute of Health Carlos III have developed a microfluidic device that mimics the human blood-retinal barrier. The research findings were published in the journal Lab on a Chip.

Microfluidic Chip mimics as cells and tissues

The new microfluidic chip developed by Barcelona researchers. Credit: Jose Yuste (CSIC-IMB-CNM)

The device is composed of several parallel compartments arranged to emulate the retinal layer structure. In every compartment, a type of cell has been cultured – endothelial cells, which constitute capillary vessels which carry oxygen and nutrientsneuronal cells, which form the neuroretina; and retinal pigmented epithelial cells, which form the outer layer of the blood-retinal barrier. The compartments are interconnected by a grid of microgrooves below, with which cells can exchange signal molecules and therefore communicate. As a result, substances produced by some cells can reach the other cells, generating cellular communication and interaction as in a living organ. Scientists say that this device can be used to study the effects of molecules or harmful conditions on the human retina and can also study diabetic retinopathy.

Dr. Rafael Simó said, “The most relevant characteristic of this technology is that mimics what happens ‘in vivo’ in the retina and therefore can be an essential tool to boost the in vitro experimentation. On the device, the cells grow in contact with a fluid, as happens in the human retina. Also, it is possible to measure electrical resistance for assessing the functionality of the retinal neurons.”

More Information: Jose Yeste et al, “A compartmentalized microfluidic chip with crisscross microgrooves and electrophysiological electrodes for modeling the blood–retinal barrier”, Lab on a Chip (2017). DOI: 10.1039/C7LC00795G

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