Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Biological Engineering

Committee Chair(s)

Elizabeth Vargis


Elizabeth Vargis


David Britt


Justin Jones


The retina is the tissue in the eye responsible for sensing light in our environment and producing signals that are sent to the brain to be translated into visual images. The photoreceptors are cells in the retina that are highly sensitive to light and responsible for initiating sight. The photoreceptors are supported by the subretina, which consists of the retinal pigment epithelium, Bruch's membrane, and choroid. With age, the structure of the subretina changes, with some layers thickening and others thinning. These structural changes have been associated with age-related eye diseases, but the underlying mechanisms are not well understood.

Age-related macular degeneration is a disease of the subretina and one of the leading causes of blindness in the elderly. In advanced age-related macular degeneration, new blood vessels form in the subretina and invade the interior of the eye. This blood vessel invasion results in progressive cell death, vision loss, and eventual blindness. Treatment options for age-related macular degeneration are limited and only slow the progression of vision loss.

This study focused on constructing a retina-on-a-chip model of the subretina to provide a platform to study early mechanisms of eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration. Specifically, the chip construction aimed to generate two cell channels separated by a hagfish protein Bruch's membrane model. The hagfish protein membrane mimics the structure of the Bruch's membrane in the eye. Results show the successful inclusion of the hagfish protein membrane within the device. The membrane supported independent fluid flow in each individual cell channel. The top cell channel was able to support retinal cell culture. These results expand the applications of retina-on-a-chip models by incorporating a protein-based membrane with similar physical properties to Bruch's membrane in the eye. Additionally, the constructed model provides a foundation for the development of a more representative model of the subretina.

Available for download on Tuesday, May 01, 2029