Story at a glance

  • Tears are important for healthy eyes.
  • Scientists are studying ways to help tear production, including growing tear glands in the lab.
  • One group has successfully grown mini tear glands that can produce tears when stimulated.

Tears are important for lubricating your eyes; not making enough tears can lead to discomfort and dryness. Scientists have been working to discover how they can help people who can’t produce enough tears. One group has successfully created mini tear glands in the lab that are able to produce tears.

Developmental biologist Hans Clever’s research group at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands has made tear gland organoids. Organoids are miniature simplistic versions of full organs that can be grown in a lab setting and experimented on. The organoids can sometimes function well enough in certain cases that make them similar to the full-size version.

“These pieces were placed in a droplet of gel, like a cushion,” wrote the study authors Marie Bannier-Hélaouët and Clever in The Conversation. “Importantly, this gel allows stem cells to grow in a three-dimensional environment, enabling them to organise into any shape.”

Clever and collaborators created a tear gland organoid and exposed it to chemicals like adrenaline. The cells swelled up from the tear production, which in a normal organ would have formed tears.


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Dry eyes affect about 30 million people in the U.S. and at least 5 percent of the world population, according to a report. So this research could eventually help scientists study how tears are produced and what can be done to help that process.

The team hopes that they can use this organoid to screen for drugs that help tear production. There’s also the potential to use this technology to help repair damaged tear gland tissue. Bannier-Hélaouët and Clever wrote, “By studying our organoid tears, we might be able to help develop treatments for dry eye disease, including by transplanting our organoids back into human patients.”


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Published on Mar 21, 2021