A team of researchers from the University of California, Riverside, College of Engineering and School of Medicine have developed a novel transparent skull implant that could eventually lead to new treatment options for patients with neurological disorders like brain cancer and traumatic brain injury. Their new implant is made of the same ceramic material that is used in hip implants, yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ). However, the material has been processed in a way to make it transparent.
Since YSZ has been proven to be well-tolerated by the body in other applications, this advancement could allow a permanently implanted window through which doctors can aim laser-based treatments for the brain, without having to perform repeated removals of a portion of the skull to access the brain.
Laser-based treatments have shown significant promise for many brain disorders. However, realization of this promise has been constrained by the need for performing a craniectomy to access the brain since most medical lasers are unable to penetrate the skull. The transparent YSZ implants developed by the UC Riverside team address this issue by providing a permanent view port through the skull.
"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, without need for repeated craniectomies," said team member Dr. Devin Binder, a clinician and an associate professor of biomedical sciences at UC Riverside.
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 minimize the need for conspicuous protective headgear.