Creating a 'window' to the brain: Novel transparent skull implant provide new treatment options

September 3, 2013, University of California - Riverside
This is a version of the transparent skull implant developed by UC Riverside researchers. Credit: University of California, Riverside

A team of University of California, Riverside researchers have developed a novel transparent skull implant that literally provides a "window to the brain", which they hope will eventually open new treatment options for patients with life-threatening neurological disorders, such as brain cancer and traumatic brain injury.

The team's implant is made of the same currently used in and dental crowns, yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ). However, the key difference is that their material has been processed in a unique way to make it transparent.

Since YSZ has already proven itself to be well-tolerated by the body in other applications, the team's advancement now allows use of YSZ as a permanent window through which doctors can aim laser-based treatments for the brain, importantly, without having to perform repeated craniectomies, which involve removing a portion of the skull to access the brain.

The work also dovetails with President Obama's recently-announced BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, which aims to revolutionize the understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure . The team envisions potential for their YSZ windows to facilitate the clinical translation of promising brain imaging and technologies being developed under this initiative.

"This is a case of a science fiction sounding idea becoming science fact, with strong potential for positive impact on patients," said Guillermo Aguilar, a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering (BCOE).

Aguilar is part of 10-person team, comprised of faculty, graduate students and researchers from UC Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering and School of Medicine, who recently published a paper "Transparent Nanocrystalline Yttria-Stabilized-Zirconia Calvarium Prosthesis" about their findings online in the journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine.

This is an illustrated cross section of the head that shows how the transparent skull implant works. Credit: Mayo Kodera

Laser-based treatments have shown significant promise for many brain disorders. However, realization of this promise has been constrained by the need for performing a craniectomy to access the brain since most medical lasers are unable to penetrate the skull. The transparent YSZ implants developed by the UC Riverside team address this issue by providing a permanently implanted view port through the skull.

"This is a crucial first step towards an innovative new concept that would provide a clinically-viable means for optically accessing the brain, on-demand, over large areas, and on a chronically-recurring basis, without need for repeated craniectomies," said team member Dr. Devin Binder, a clinician and an associate professor of biomedical sciences at UC Riverside.

Although the team's YSZ windows are not the first transparent skull implants to be reported, they are the first that could be conceivably used in humans, which is a crucial distinction. This is due to the inherent toughness of YSZ, which makes it far more resistant to shock and impact than the glass-based implants previously demonstrated by others. This not only enhances safety, but it may also reduce patient self-consciousness, since the reduced vulnerability of the implant could minimize the need for conspicuous protective headgear.

Explore further: Researchers coat spinal polymer implants with bioactive film to improve bonding with bone

Related Stories

Researchers coat spinal polymer implants with bioactive film to improve bonding with bone

February 19, 2013
Researchers from North Carolina State University have for the first time successfully coated polymer implants with a bioactive film. The discovery should improve the success rate of such implants – which are often used ...

BRAIN initiative seeks tools to understand human thought, behavior, consciousness

April 24, 2013
The newly proposed scientific project to understand the most complicated 3 pounds of material in the world—the human brain—is the topic of an article in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly newsmagazine ...

Building better brain implants: The challenge of longevity

August 20, 2013
On August 20, JoVE, the Journal of Visualized Experiments will publish a technique from the Capadona Lab at Case Western Reserve University to accommodate two challenges inherent in brain-implantation technology, gauging ...

Researchers use nasal lining to breach blood-brain barrier

April 24, 2013
Neurodegenerative and central nervous system (CNS) diseases represent a major public health issue affecting at least 20 million children and adults in the United States alone. Multiple drugs exist to treat and potentially ...

Recommended for you

Epilepsy linked to brain volume and thickness differences

January 22, 2018
Epilepsy is associated with thickness and volume differences in the grey matter of several brain regions, according to new research led by UCL and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.