In a world-first, scientists in the Netherlands have managed to grow disembodied tear glands that can cry. That’s right, a team of researchers from the Hubrecht Institute and UMC Utrecht has successfully created a lab-grown version of the glands responsible for keeping your eyes lubricated.
The team used stem cells to grow the tiny tear glands in a petri dish. They mimic the real thing and the hope is that by better understanding the way these so-called organoids produce tears, the scientists might be able to develop better treatments for conditions such as dry eye disease, as well as cancers of the tear glands.
“Hopefully in the future, this type of organoid may even be transplantable to patients with nonfunctioning tear glands,” said Marie Bannier-Hélaou, co-author of the study.
As CNET explains, organoids are built-invitro, in 3D suspension, from stem cells that eventually multiply to form tear glands, which are located inside the upper eyelid. Tear (or lacrimal) glands continuously supply tear fluid which is wiped across the surface of our eyes each time we blink. On top of helping us display emotion, the fluid produced by the glands is also essential to the eye’s health.
While there are multiple kinds of cells that make up human tear glands, the lab-grown glands in the Netherlands are made of only one type of these cells, called ductal. This is the kind of cell that enables the gland to cry in response to chemical stimuli such as noradrenaline, a neurotransmitter that sends a message from our neurons to our tear glands.
Next, the researchers hope to eventually make tear glands out of a broader array of cells and thus gain a deeper understanding of how our body produces tears and how they affect our eye health.