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Noninvasive technique collects sufficient tear fluid to look for biomarkers of health and disease

May 27, 2022
Shruti Sharma and Ashok Sharma in the laboratory.

Drs. Shruti Sharma (left) and Ashok Sharma. Image credit: Michael Holahan, Augusta University

The protective outer layer of our eyes, called the tear film, contains thousands of proteins, which provide clues about wellness and disease, and scientists have fine-tuned what they say is a non-invasive and efficient way to look at those clues.

They anticipate that one day a tear fluid workup could be as routine as bloodwork during a physical exam as well as in diagnosing a myriad of conditions from dry eye disease to Alzheimer’s.

They appear to have cleared a major hurdle to that future, because, while  there are a lot of proteins present, getting an adequate volume of tear fluid to analyze them has been technically difficult, say Drs. Ashok and Shruti Sharma, scientists in the Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia and James and Jean Culver Vision Discovery Institute at Augusta University.

Now they report in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences that the same tissue paper, called a Schirmer strip, already placed painlessly against the eye to measure tear production in patients, can also capture a sufficient volume of tear fluid for a detailed protein analysis.

Next they pair the protein saturated paper with the high-throughput, protein analytics of mass spectrometry to get a clear picture of the proteins present.

Now that they have a technique, their goals include developing a database of the proteins of healthy individuals that will be available free to other scientists working to identify outlier proteins that are biomarkers for disease and pursuing their own studies of the biomarkers for the common and uncomfortable dry eye disease.