New Technology Uses Tears to Detect Ocular Disorders, Diabetes

3 min readJul 26, 2022

by Adrianna Nine

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(Photo: Marc Schulte/Unsplash)Technological advancements out of China reveal that tears don’t just flush the eye and convey emotion-they also hold the secret to diagnosing a number of diseases.

Biomedical engineers at Wenzhou Medical University have developed a system for detecting ocular, endocrine, and even neurodegenerative disorders using just a few tears. The system, aptly named iTEARS, uses exosomes in tears to determine whether a certain disease is present in the human body.

Exosomes themselves act as microscopic messengers that carry information about cell health and various bodily processes. When exosomes are captured and analyzed in sufficient quantities, they have the power to reveal whether a person has specific disorders…but the “quantity” portion of testing is the tough part. Tears are already quite small, and obtaining tear samples with high enough concentrations of exosomes can be challenging.

iTEARS, however, can isolate exosomes from the rest of a solution, allowing the exosomes’ cellular messages to shine through. The technology uses two vibrating nanoporous membranes to separate exosomes from tears in as little as five minutes. Once isolated, the exosomes can be used for various forms of disease testing. Not only can the molecular “fingerprints” within a patient’s exosomes help diagnose dry eye, but they can differentiate between types of the disorder, thus allowing the patient and their provider to determine which treatment would be most effective. Compared with a healthy control, tear exosomes can also be used to detect diabetic retinopathy-a relatively rare eye condition associated with diabetes-and even diabetes itself.

(Image: Liu et al/ACS Nano)

The use of exosomes in detecting certain disorders isn’t new. Exosomes exist in all bodily fluids, including blood and urine, which are frequently used to determine whether a patient has a certain disease or condition. But blood and urine aren’t exactly approachable when it comes to…


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