The development of new drugs for the treatment of eye ailments frequently requires the use of animal models in protocols that are deemed unethical, uneconomical and inaccurate. An in vitro alternative is offered by Texas Tech University: an artificial, human "cornea-on-a-chip."

The device features a porous membrane-embedded microfluidic platform that is fabricated in a time-saving additive The chip replicates the human cornea and can be used to speed up the drug-evaluation process for eye medications. Source: Texas Tech UniversityThe chip replicates the human cornea and can be used to speed up the drug-evaluation process for eye medications. Source: Texas Tech Universitybiomanufacturing process. Immortalized human corneal epithelial cells are stacked on top of one another to replicate the human cornea structures.

The researchers recognized that tears form as medicine is applied to eyes. This agent in drug dilution has been lacking in previous versions of ocular testing chips, so the new polymer microchip was designed to mimic the tear flow and blinking patterns of the human eye.

In addition to improving the cost-effectiveness of new drug development, the chip might also find use in furthering our understanding of ocular wound healing. The researchers noted that limbal corneal epithelial cells have rapid stem cell-like wound-healing properties, but despite the strong barrier posed by these cells, infectious agents can still invade the eye. The device might be used to study this process by inoculating bacteria and monitoring the speed with which they destroy the protective corneal epithelial junction.

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