© Fraunhofer IGB

Retina-on-a-chip – A physiological 3D model of the human retina

1: Retina-on-a-chip. | 2: Interaction of photoreceptors of retinal organoids with the retinal pigment epithelium.

Degenerative diseases of the retina such as age-related macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa are the most common causes for loss of vision [1]. Existing in vitro or in vivo model systems for the testing of new pharmaceutical compounds as well as for mechanistic research recapitulate the structure and complexity of the human retina only to a very limited extent. New achievements in the field of stem cell biology, in particular the induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), enable the generation of complex 3D tissue structures: Stem cell-based retinal organoids (RO) feature multiple layers of a variety of different cell types representing parts of the structure of retinal tissue [2]. However, even ROs are still limited, especially with regard to the interaction of the photoreceptors with the surrounding tissue, their maturation and the vascularization.

Interaction of photoreceptors with the retinal pigment epithelium in vitro

Microphysiological in vitro models or organ-on-a-chip systems (OoC systems) represent a new technology that can revolutionize the development of pharmaceuticals. By integrating physiologically relevant human tissue into a microfluidic environment, OoCs offer many advantages, such as a tissue-like microenvironment and vascularization. The retina-on-a-chip system developed in this project (Fig. 1) integrates human iPSC-based ROs in an OoC to enable a physiological interaction between photoreceptors and the surrounding retinal pigment epithelium (Fig. 2). This interaction is crucial for the functionality of the retina, and has previously not been recapitulated in vitro. The developed retina-on-a-chip has great potential as a physiologically relevant model system for the development and testing of new pharmaceutical agents as well as for the investigation of disease mechanisms.

We would be happy to adapt the system to your requirements and carry out tests on your behalf.


[1] J. M. Colijn et al. (2017) Prevalence of age-related macular degeneration in Europe: The past and the future, Ophthalmology 124(12): 1753–1763

[2] X. Zhong et al. (2014) Generation of three-dimensional retinal tissue with functional photoreceptors from human iPSCs, Nat Commun 5: 4047

Project information

Project title

Retina-on-a-chip – A physiological 3D model of the human retina


Project duration

January 2017 – June 2017


Project partners

  • Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB, Stuttgart (Germany) (Coordinator)
  • Institute of Neuroanatomy, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen (Germany)




We would like to thank the NC3Rs (National Centre for the Replacement Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research) for funding the project "Retina-on-a-chip – A physiological 3D model of the human retina".