The retina of the eye may be grown in the lab from pluripotent stem cells (Eiraku et al, 2011; Ali & Sowden, 2011). These synthetic retinas, or retinal organoids, have a great potential for:
- investigating why some children are born blind by ‘modelling’ human embryonic or foetal retinas, which are otherwise unavailable for study.
- testing drug candidates to treat blindness, or to identify those that may cause congenital blindness.
- ‘cell replacement’ therapies to treat blindness due to ageing or injury.
Retinas grown from stem cells are still a new technology and can thus be unpredictable and difficult to control. This fully funded PhD project will investigate how lab-grown human retinas develop, with the aim of enhancing their reliability and scalability for understanding, treating and reversing blindness.
Recent discoveries by our lab have led us to develop the first computer model of retinal self-organisation (Grocott et al, 2020). Similar to weather or economic forecasting, this allows us to forecast how well synthetic retinas might grow in different situations, making them more predictable – an important step forward. The project will test and extend these forecasts to better understand and control the development of synthetic human retinas.
The experimental work will leverage both in vitro human retinal organoids and in vivo chick embryos to validate and extend our in silico computer models. It will develop your transferable ‘wet lab’ skills in molecular, stem cell and developmental biology, and advanced imaging. You will receive training in quantitative analytical approaches, with the option of gaining further skills in computational biology (computer programming, bioinformatics, mathematical modelling).
Informal inquiries are strongly encouraged; please contact Dr Tim Grocott.