In a new first, scientists have produced lab-grown, working tear glands that can actually produce tears.
The lab-grown organoids started as a pile of stem cells in a petri dish but have since grown into 3D structures that work almost just like the gland inside your upper eyelids, CNET reports. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, which was behind the study, says that the lab-grown organoids will help them model and study eye-related diseases, but they have even more ambitious ideas as they learn to make the glands more lifelike.
"Hopefully in the future, this type of organoid may even be transplantable to patients with nonfunctioning tear glands," study coauthor Marie Bannier-Hélaouët told CNET.
Whether or not the tear gland is viable for organ transplants today, according to the outlet's reporting, the scientists plan to use it to study diseases like dry eye disease and cancers.
For now, the tear gland isn't perfect. It's made entirely of one type of cell rather than the variety that make up the real tear glands we have inside our bodies, according to the team's research, which was published Tuesday in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
The organoids themselves make for a bizarre sight, though. Instead of dripping out fluid, the liquid is produced on the inside of the lab-grown tear gland. That makes the whole thing swell up like a water balloon.
"Our eyes are always wet, as are the tear glands in a dish," Bannier-Hélaouët told CNET.
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READ MORE: Scientists grow human tear glands in a lab and actually make them cry [CNET]
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