Cell-mimicking Microgels to Model Retinal Epithelium Ageing

The DWI – Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials, Aachen is a research institute that takes on the challenge of surpassing disciplinary limits and tackling new questions relating to substances and materials that combine technology and nature. It is a location where people with different talents, experiences and skills work together, to learn from each other, and generate new knowledge and new methods to create a better quality of life in our world.

DWI invites applications for a position as

Master Student (d/f/m)

The project:

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of sight-loss in western countries and is characterized by the gradual phenotypical change of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) in the central region of the retina named macula. This phenotypical change leads to the local degeneration of the retina and sight loss. Associated with macular degeneration is the localized presence of aberrant accumulation of extracellular material underneath the RPE layer named “Drusen” which generate high localized mechanical stress. Due to their high intercellular adhesion level, epithelial cells collectively behave, leading to emerging mechanical and biochemical properties. Thus, it is reasonable to think of epithelia as materials whose elasticity, toughness or brittleness can be deduced from the distribution of monolayer stresses. Being a postmitotic epithelium, while ageing, RPE function is ensured by a monolayer plastic adaptation characterized by cellular deformations and multinucleations that compensate for natural cell loss. We speculate that the monolayer plastic adaptation increases monolayer stress heterogeneity, thus its brittleness and the ability to tolerate the mechanical stress originating by Drusen. Currently, it is possible to investigate the mechanical effect of plastic adaptation only qualitatively in fixed tissues.

The project aims to establish an in-vitro experimental model to artificially induce plastic adaptation using phototunable cell-mimicking microgels and quantify its effect on cell monolayer mechanics. This innovative system will not only set the basis for bottom-up research in age-related RPE mechanobiology but also open possibilities for novel applications of microgel systems.

The student will be part of a team of chemists, biologists and physicists from the research group of Di Russo and De Laporte.


Your tasks will be:

  • Optimization of phototunable microgels production via microfluidic
  • Characterization of mechanical properties of the microgels
  • Biofunctionalization of the microgels and their incorporation in epithelial monolayers
  • Traction-force microscopy and follow-up computational analyses in MATLAB and Fiji software


Your profile:

  • You are studying chemistry, bioengineering or a related discipline
  • You are interested in basic research or in the field of mechanobiology
  • You are interested in mammalian cell culture
  • You are a reliable and careful worker with the ability of integrating well in a team


DWI offers:

  • Exciting and challenging tasks as well as development opportunities in a modern scientific organization
  • An open and team-oriented working atmosphere in an international environment
  • The support of an experienced team

We at the DWI - Leibniz Institute value diversity and therefore welcome all applications - regardless of gender, disability, nationality or ethnic and social background.

For more information please contact
Associated Scientist, RWTH Aachen University

Dr. Jacopo Di Russo

+49-241 80-88974
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