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Transparent Skull Implant Devised for Laser Brain Treatments

Transparent ceramic material developed for skull implants

Sample of the transparent ceramic material developed for skull implants (University of California at Riverside)

Engineers at University of California at Riverside developed a transparent material for implants in the skull that could allow for lasers to treat brain disorders. A team from the lab of mechanical engineering professor Guillermo Aguilar published its findings online last month in the journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine (paid subscription required).

The advance by Aguilar and colleagues is expected to make laser treatments of neurological conditions, such as traumatic brain injuries, or brain cancer more widely available. While laser treatments have shown promise for treating brain disorders, each treatment requires a separate craniectomy, an invasive and risky procedure that creates an opening in the skull to lasers to access the brain.

While other transparent skull implants have in existence or development, the Riverside team created their implant with yttria-stabilized zirconia or YSZ, a ceramic material already used in prosthetic devices such as hip implants as well as dental crowns. As a result, YSZ is a material  already proven to be well tolerated in the body.

Aguilar’s team, however, developed a nanocrystalline and transparent form of YSZ. This form of YSZ, say the researchers is more durable than the brittle, glass-like materials tried so far as cranial implants, and thus safer for patients. It also makes possible for implant patients to avoid wearing protective headgear.

In a feasibility study reported in the journal article, Aguilar and colleagues implanted YSZ windows in mice skulls and tested the delivery of optical coherence tomography signals through those windows. Optical coherence tomography is an imaging technology analagous to ultrasound, but with light instead of audio waves to create the images. The researchers report the optical coherence tomography signals actually improved when transmitted through the YSZ window.

Co-author and Riverside neuroscientist Devin Blinder calls the development “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.”

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