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Glaucoma Research Illustrations

Some time ago I had the opportunity to help visualize some research that is being done on glaucoma by the University Eye Clinic in Maastricht. The project basically consists of two parts: the anatomy of the retina and the optic nerve and how the build-up of pressure in the eye causes glaucoma, and the setup of the artificial environment to simulate glaucoma in the experiment. Most of the illustration work was done in Illustrator, the 3D animations of the experimental setup were done in Maya.

Overview of the eye and optic nerve to the brain (with zoomed in retine)

Someone suffering from glaucoma starts losing eyesight gradually from an increase in pressure in the eye that eventually damages the optic nerve. 

Pressure on the optic nerve head

The idea is that the increased pressure in the eye puts the Retinal Ganglion Cells (RGCs) under a lot of stress and eventually kills them, which leads to hollowing out or 'cupping' of the optic nerve head and a decrease of signals from the retina: loss of eyesight.

Glaucoma stages healthy-intermediate-glaucoma animation

Researchers know that the pressure in the eye plays a role in the damaging of the optic nerve, but how exactly this damage occurs is less clear. So to test what actually happens, the researchers at the University Eye Clinic built a setup to test what different kinds of stresses actually do to a Retinal Ganglion Cell: a RGC is placed on a special culture unit on top of a membrane that can be stretched in different directions.

Culture Unit Preparation Graphic

Little channels that run through the device that the culture unit is on, make it possible to create a vacuum under the membrane which stretches it together with the placed RGCs. In real-time this stretch and release happens very rapidly.

Culture Unit Stretching and Releasing with RGC Animation

To better visualize it, I made a 3D model (and animation) of the culture unit. Starting with a single part that shows the same RGC stretching mechanics as in the above images.

Animation Culture Unit Part 3D Model Animation

All kinds of shapes and sizes of culture units are put on the device, which makes it possible to simulate many different types of pressure on the RGCs. Here are a few snapshots from the animation of the full culture unit 3D model:

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