Support nonprofit journalism.
A new method to rapidly analyze teardrops could help scientists detect molecular signatures of disease.
RunPhoto/The Image Bank/Getty Images Plus
Human tears could carry a flood of useful information.
With just a few drops, a new technique can spot eye disease and even glimpse signs of diabetes, scientists report July 20 in ACS Nano.
“We wanted to demonstrate the potential of using tears to detect disease,” says Fei Liu, a biomedical engineer at Wenzhou Medical University in China. It’s possible the droplets could open a window for scientists to peer into the entire body, he says, and one day even let people quickly test their tears at home.
Headlines and summaries of the latest Science News articles, delivered to your inbox
Thank you for signing up!
There was a problem signing you up.
Like saliva and urine, tears contain tiny sacs stuffed with cellular messages (SN: 9/3/13). If scientists could intercept these microscopic mailbags, they could offer new intel on what’s happening inside the body. But collecting enough of these sacs, called exosomes, is tricky. Unlike fluid from other body parts, just a trickle of liquid leaks from the eyes.
So Liu’s team devised a new way to capture the sacs from tiny volumes of tears. First, the researchers collected tears from study participants. Then, the team added a solution containing the tears to a device with two nanoporous membranes, vibrated the membranes and sucked the solution through. Within minutes, the technique lets small molecules escape, leaving the sacs behind for analysis.
The results gave scientists an eyeful. Different types of dry-eye disease shed their own molecular fingerprints in people’s tears, the team found. What’s more, tears could potentially help doctors monitor how a patient’s diabetes is progressing.
Now, the scientists want to tap tears for evidence of other diseases as well as depression or emotional stress, says study coauthor Luke Lee, a bioengineer at Harvard Medical School. “This is just the beginning,” he says. “Tears express something that we haven’t really explored.”
Questions or comments on this article? E-mail us at email@example.com
L. Hu et al. Discovering the secret of diseases by incorporated tear exosomes analysis via rapid-isolation system: iTEARS. ACS Nano. Published online July 20, 2022. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.2c02531.
Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.
Science News was founded in 1921 as an independent, nonprofit source of accurate information on the latest news of science, medicine and technology. Today, our mission remains the same: to empower people to evaluate the news and the world around them. It is published by the Society for Science, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) membership organization dedicated to public engagement in scientific research and education.
© Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022. All rights reserved.
Subscribers, enter your e-mail address for full access to the Science News archives and digital editions.
Not a subscriber?
Become one now.
Support nonprofit journalism.