‘Organ-on-a-chip’ opens the door to new treatment for glaucoma and other eye diseases

23 May 19

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Press Office

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Eye research charity, Fight for Sight, is funding the development of an ‘organ-on-chip’ that for the first time will be used to help investigate glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness.

Dr Darryl Overby and Dr Sam Au from Imperial College London, in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Duke University, will build upon the latest bioengineering technology to develop a new device that mimics the flow of fluid (or ‘aqueous humour’) as it drains from the eye.

The matchbox sized ‘organ on a chip’ is made from a special gel that contains channels the width of a match that are surrounded by human eye cells. Essentially, an entire laboratory can fit on the device, running several experiments in parallel on the same chip.

Researchers will use the device to better understand how eye pressure is controlled and will design drugs to target the pressure-controlling mechanisms in the eye. Using the new device researchers will be able to manipulate specific cells and examine the effects on flow of fluid from the eye. The ultimate aim is to improve our understanding of fluid flow to lower the increased eye pressure that people experience in glaucoma, which results in damage to the optic nerve and sight loss.

This technology has the potential to be applied to research on a wide range of other eye conditions such as retinal degeneration, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

Glaucoma is associated with increased pressure in the eye, resulting from a failure in the eye fluid draining away. However, it is not fully understood how this process is controlled which means current drugs are unable to precisely target the causes.

Dr Neil Ebenezer, Director of Research, Policy and Innovation at Fight for Sight, said: “We’re excited to fund the development of a bioengineered ‘organ on a chip’ which can recreate a whole lab on a device the size of a matchbox – this opens the door to testing aspects of glaucoma and other eye disease that have previously been difficult to investigate and could offer solutions for this leading cause of sight loss.”

Lead researcher, Dr Darryl Overby from Imperial College London, said: “Organ-on-chip technologies provide the unique opportunity to probe organ and tissue-level functions without using animal models. By applying organ-on-chip approaches to the trabecular meshwork, which is the primary drainage route from the eye, we can investigate directly how this tissue regulates eye pressure. This will ultimately allow us to develop better drugs that more effectively lower eye pressure and prevent blindness in glaucoma. We are thankful to Fight for Sight and for the generosity of their donors to be able to work on this exciting project.”

The £100,000 awarded by the charity, Fight for Sight will support the three year project.

Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye conditions that causes sight loss because of damage to the optic nerve (the nerve that connects the eyes to the brain).