Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, 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 ceramic material currently used in hip implants and dental crowns (yttria-stabilised zirconia, or 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, they can now do so 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 BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, which aims to revolutionise the understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders. The team envisions potential for their YSZ windows to facilitate the clinical translation of promising brain imaging and neuromodulation technologies being developed under this initiative.
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