Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the developed world, with the number of affected patients predicted to be 288 million by 2040. Advanced therapies, including gene and cell therapies, are being developed to treat currently blinding retinal diseases including AMD. The first advanced therapy for inherited retinaldisease is already licensed (https://luxturna.com/) and the number of treatments and market is set to expand exponentially with up to 50,000 treatments per year requiring to be delivered in UK alone.
However, the delivery of these treatments requires novel surgical approaches, all of which require a significant surgical learning curve. Poor surgical technique and errors can not only reduce treatment efficacy but also cause blindness.
Current methods for surgical development and training include the use of ex vivo human and animal eyes, and virtual reality, which both have deficiencies. Ex vivo animal eyes have anatomical differences and both animal and human eyes have post-mortem changes limiting their use, as well as cost and supply. Virtual reality fails to provide realistic tactile feedback and currently doesn’t model the interaction and adhesion of the posterior eye tissue planes. Synthetic model eyes exist and are used widely for anterior segment eye surgery training, but do not currently mimic the posterior segment eye tissues required for realism.
Therefore, this project proposes to design, fabricate, and evaluate a biomimetic eye model with a synthetic neurosensory retina in turn attached to sclera that can be used for surgical training. This exciting project exploits synergies of a multidisciplinary team comprising retinal surgeons, biomaterial engineers, and biomechanical engineers from two universities focused on advanced therapies to treat blindness. Therefore, the student will be trained in uniquely multidisciplinary methods with a directly translatable route to a final product.
The studentship is divided in three phases:
Phase 1. Detailed biomechanical characterisation of posterior eye tissues using uniaxial and inflation/optical coherence elastography methods with particular focus on retinal biomechanics including viscoelasticity, adhesion, and needle penetration.
Phase 2. Manufacturing of a multilayer 3D eye model with emphasis on posterior ocular tissues for surgical training by exploiting hybrid bioprinting and biomimetic materials to match the physical properties of the posterior ocular structures.
Phase 3. Evaluation of the model as a surgical training tool. A network of retinal surgeons will be used, with advanced sensing and psychophysical assessments.
The project fits different MRC strategic skill areas, including quantitative and interdisciplinary skills, with a translational aspect to assist advanced therapy drug delivery for blinding retinal diseases and reducing risk to patients. The student will develop cross-cutting capabilities to measure biomechanical properties of the posterior eye, to develop biomimetic material combinations, and will include integral involvement of end users, namely surgeons and industry who will use the technology to deliver therapies to clinic. It is a cross-faculty, cross-institutional and cross-theme project with extensive hands-on training in areas including biomaterials, bioprinting, tissue engineering, biomechanics and surgical translation building a highly transferrable and interdisciplinary skills portfolio.
Benefits of being in the DiMeN DTP:
This project is part of the Discovery Medicine North Doctoral Training Partnership (DiMeN DTP), a diverse community of PhD students across the North of England researching the major health problems facing the world today. Our partner institutions (Universities of Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, York and Sheffield) are internationally recognised as centres of research excellence and can offer you access to state-of the-art facilities to deliver high impact research.
We are very proud of our student-centred ethos and committed to supporting you throughout your PhD. As part of the DTP, we offer bespoke training in key skills sought after in early career researchers, as well as opportunities to broaden your career horizons in a range of non-academic sectors.
Being funded by the MRC means you can access additional funding for research placements, international training opportunities or internships in science policy, science communication and beyond. See how our current DiMeN students have benefited from this funding here: https://www.dimen.org.uk/blog
Further information on the programme and how to apply can be found on our website: