Dry eye disease (DED) has few FDA-approved treatment options because of difficulties modeling the pathophysiology in human eyes. But Penn Engineering is looking to change that with their blinking artificial human eye replica. The goal is to use it to better understand DED and test its use as a drug testing platform.
Study leader Dan Huh’s lab specializes in creating organs on a chip with microengineered in vitro platforms to mimic in vivo counterparts. This specific creation was created to imitate both a healthy eye and an eye with DED. It began as a porous scaffold the size of a contact lens created via 3D printing. On this they grew human eye cells. Gelatin acts as the eyelid and moves over the eye at the same rate of human blinking. This was important to the researchers because DED often involves the tear film evaporating more quickly than it is replenished.
To mimic DED conditions, the device’s artificial blinking was cut in half and put in an environment simulating real-life humidity. The researchers then examined its effectiveness against real human eyes (healthy and with DED). The eye-on-a-chip mimicked actual eyes’ performance in a Schirmer strip, an osmolarity test, and a keratography test.
They also tested an upcoming drug based on lubricin and compared the results with a healthy eye, an eye with DED, and an eye with DED plus lubricin. Results showed its friction-lowering effects and discovered lubricin’s previously unknown capacity to suppress inflammation of the ocular surface.
The study demonstrated proof-of-concept, but must be further advanced for testing contact lenses and surgeries.
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