Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have used 3D printing and other technologies to produce an artificial blinking eye.
The “blinking eye-on-chip” was developed by Penn engineers in conjunction with the Department of Ophthalmology to improve both our understanding and treatment of dry eye disease, or DED. The artificial eye, which uses lab-grown human eye cells for the cornea and conjunctiva, may eventually be used in place of animal testing.
The manufacturing lab, which had previously developed artificial lungs, has long held the hope of using these man-made body parts for drug testing. DED is slated to be the first of potentially many eye ailments to be treated through this new technology. In addition to learning about ways to treat the eye, researchers are learning about the mechanics of the eye itself– noting particularly that the act of blinking may cause cells to differentiate more quickly and efficiently.
While the blinking eye-on-chip has been limited to DED testing at this stage, use of the eye has the potential to expand treatment testing to other conjunctival and corneal diseases or even contact lens technology. The development of this artificial eye is changing the way the university approaches dry eye care and could hopefully, in time, eliminate the usage of animal testing in ophthalmology.