An illustration showing how the Window to the Brain transparent brain implant created by UC Riverside researchers would work. (Credit: UC San Diego)

Researchers from several US and Mexican institutions are developing a transparent skull implant that will allow doctors to deliver laser-based treatments to the brain on demand and on a recurring basis without the need for surgeons to open up the skull, a highly invasive procedure called a craniotomy. The “Window to the Brain” would provide new treatment options for patients with life-threatening neurological disorders, including brain cancers, traumatic brain injuries, neurodegenerative diseases, and stroke.

The project began when researchers developed a transparent version of the material yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ)—a tough, impact resistant ceramic product that is already used in hip implants and dental crowns — and later tested its feasibility to be used as a cranial implant. To allow light to pass through the scalp tissue covering the implant, researchers are fabricating microneedles to deliver drugs that temporarily render the skin transparent.

Research is now focused on determining the clinical viability of the implant. The team’s long-term goal is to see the technology become the standard of care for patients with brain disorders who would benefit from laser-based treatments.