Tears with spouts: Dutch scientists cultivate weeping tear glands

For the first time, Dutch researchers have grown human mini tear glands that actually cry. In the long term, they hope to eliminate tear gland disorders.

Researchers from the Hubrecht Institute and UMC Utrecht have succeeded in cultivating miniature versions of the mouse and human lacrimal gland in a lab using so-called organoid technology. Organoids are 3D structures that mimic the function of real organs.

Essential tear fluid

Tear fluid is essential for moisturizing and nourishing the cornea and has an antibacterial effect, but the exact biology of the lacrimal gland functioning was unknown until now. Ophthalmologist Rachel Kalmann of UMC Utrecht explains: “If the tear gland does not function or functions poorly, for example in Sjögren’s syndrome, this can have serious consequences, including dehydration and even ulceration of the cornea. In extreme cases, this can lead to blindness. ”

To investigate how cells in the lacrimal gland cry and what can go wrong, the scientists grew the first human model of the organ. It’s one thing to grow tear glands in a lab, another is to make them cry too.

Co-author Marie Bannier-Hélaouët of UMC Utrecht explains: “Organoids are cultivated using a cocktail of growth-stimulating substances. We had to adjust the usual cocktail to make the organoids cry. ”

So by finding the right mix of growth factors, they could eventually make the organoids cry. “Our eyes are always wet, just like the tear glands in a petri dish,” adds Bannier-Hélaouët.

Lacrimal disorders

The study, published in the professional journal Cell Stem Cell, shows promise for patients with lacrimal gland disease because researchers can use the model to search for new drugs for people who are not producing enough tears. The mini tear glands can also be used to study how cancer develops in the lacrimal gland.

“And hopefully we can even transplant these types of organoids into patients with non-functioning lacrimal glands in the future,” adds Bannier-Hélaouët.



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