Engineers create blinking human ‘eye’ chip for drug testing

Brittany A. Roston - Aug 6, 2019, 6:39pm CDT
Engineers create blinking human ‘eye’ chip for drug testing

Engineers with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science have revealed their newly developed ‘eye-on-a-chip,’ a small eye-shaped device that can be used as a drug testing platform. The product was created to fill a void in the medical industry, one that sorely lacks adequate treatments for an eye condition called Dry Eye Disease (DED).

Dry eye disease is a typically permanent condition in which one’s eyes persistently fail to produce enough lubricant. Individuals suffering from this condition are forced to frequently use eye drops to protect their eyes from permanent damage that can result from having dry eyes.

In a Medium post this week, Penn engineers noted that there are ‘shockingly few’ DED drug treatments approved by the FDA. This issue is partly due to the difficulty in modeling the human eye in order to test potential treatments — and that’s where the new eye-on-a-chip device comes in.

The small hardware device features a blinking eyelid, as well as a porous scaffold created using 3D printing that is used to grow human eye cells. The yellow portion of the ‘eye’ featured in the image above represents the cornea; the red portion represents the conjunctiva (the part of the eye that is white).

The mechanical ‘eyelid’ is made from gelatin and a ‘teardrop’ is used to secrete fake tears. The features ultimately form a model of the human eye that can be used for testing potential DED treatments, paving the way for better treatment options that protect eye health.


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