Researchers say tears can help manage grave diseases

In the not too distant future, a teardrop will tell a lot about the status of your health. Although tear tests are already in use as a tool to diagnose eye problems, researchers at the Narayana Nethralaya in Bangalore say in the next three years, tears can be used to detect proteins in the eye that in turn will help predict, prevent and manage even diseases like cancer.

Studies on tear science are under way in other countries too. A German study has reported diagnosing “breast cancer by tear proteomic pattern”. “Tear tests on the lines of urine tests can soon be used to detect various diseases. We at Narayana Nethralaya have taken up a comprehensive study on tear science and set up a Tear Film Society of India for better analysis of tears,” said Rohit Shetty, vice-chairman of Narayana Nethralaya.

Dry eye lab

The hospital has set up a laboratory exclusively for research, diagnosis and treatment of dry eyes, a lifestyle disease induced by long-term exposure to computers and caused by systemic diseases such as diabetes and arthritis.

Speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the inauguration of the laboratory, Dr. Shetty said the hospital had tied up with Singapore National Eye Institute for analysis of tear proteins.

Four researchers from Narayana Nethralaya, including Dr. Shetty, have found unique proteins which could cause Keratoconus, a degeneration of the structure of the cornea in the younger population. “We have patented these proteins (MM9 and complex Annexin) with the Singapore National Eye Institute,” he said.

Causes

Hospital chairperson K. Bhujang Shetty said dryness of the eyes is caused by multiple factors such as insufficient blinking, exposure to computers for more than six hours a day (leading to evaporative dryness), diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, use of medications and menopause.

“The most common cause is the blockage of glands on the eyelids. Air-conditioning or a dry-heating system and smoking can also dry the eyes. Nearly 40 per cent of the 700 patients we see every day complain of dry eyes,” he said.

Symptoms

Persistent dryness, itching, grittiness, a burning sensation and a foreign body sensation in the eyes are the most common symptoms of dryness. Dry eye syndrome can also cause excessively watery eyes.

This is because dryness on the eye’s surface sometimes over-stimulates production of the watery component of tears as a protective mechanism, Dr. Bhujang Shetty said.

The dry eye laboratory at Narayana Nethralaya has advanced machines to study tears both for imaging and analysis of tear components. “This helps us in understanding the pathology better. A specialised department called Centre for Occupational Dry Eye (CODE) that explores all problems of occupational dry eye is part of the lab. We have also put up a questionnaire on our hospital website www.narayanane thralaya.org

This is for people to evaluate themselves on dry eyes and seek medical help if required, he added.