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Would You Want A Window Implanted Into Your Skull?

Above: Using the same material found in fake diamonds, UC Riverside engineers have created a skull implant that acts as a window into the living brain.

Aired 9/3/13 on KPBS News.

Researchers at UC Riverside have engineered an implant that offers a transparent view into the living brain. These skull skylights could help with recurring laser-based brain treatments.

Metaphorically speaking, neuroscientists would love to have a crystal-clear "window to the brain." Literally speaking, that's essentially what a team of UC Riverside researchers have just built.

In a new paper, Guillermo Aguilar and his colleagues describe the skull implant they engineered to provide a transparent view into the living brain. It's made out of zirconia, the same stuff used in mock diamonds.

The toughness of zirconia improves upon previous "brain windows," often fashioned out of glass. Needless to say, these fragile glass implants have not been approved for use in humans.

Aguilar says his team's implant could one day allow doctors to deliver laser-based treatments more easily to people suffering from certain kinds of brain diseases.

"Physicians could have access to these ports with relative ease, and they could be treating the patient more regularly," said Aguilar. Currently, doctors need to remove a piece of the patient's skull — a process called a craniectomy — every time they offer such treatments.

So far, the researchers have demonstrated the feasibility of their implants in live rats. It could take awhile before the implants are available for humans. But the material has already been proven safe in other biomedical implants, so the researchers are optimistic.

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