A window into the brain

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

see through skull
The implant will allow lasers to see the brain without having to operate on the skull every time.

When someone suffers from a stroke, head injury, or brain cancer, it’s important to see where the damage has been done. Emerging laser treatments are able to make an image of the brain, but it comes at a cost. Many lasers can’t get through our thick skulls, so pieces have to be taken out in order to create a proper picture! That seems sort of dangerous doesn’t it, having pieces of your head removed? Well, mechanical engineers from the University of California, Riverside (UCR) thought so too, which is why they built an implant that can serve as window into the brain!

The material used for the implant – yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ) – is the same found in dental crowns that dentists place on top of teeth, with one major difference: it’s transparent! So, instead of having pieces of skull removed and replaced over and over again, patients can have this clever implant serve as a window into the brain! Professor of mechanical engineering, Guillermo Aguilar, said: “This is a case of a science fiction sounding idea becoming science fact, with strong potential for positive impact on patients.”

Although this isn’t the first skull implant ever created, it is the first that’s tough enough to handle shock and impact. Previous, glass-based implants just don’t have the same strength and endurance, so they are not too practical to use. “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,” said Aguilar.

Images courtesy of University of California, Riverside.