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Scientists move closer to developing therapeutic window to the brain

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The human brain has fascinated scientists and researchers for ages and that is the reason why it has been a hot subject of research in the scientific community. Now imagine having a window to the brain.

Well, the idea of having a window to the brain may sound far-fetched, but, researchers at the University of California, Riverside who have been working on this idea for a while have some good news to share. They have revealed that the idea of having a ‘Window to the Brain’ transparent skull implant is closer to reality through the findings of two studies that have been published in the journals- Lasers in Surgery and Medicine and Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine.

The implant which is under development phase will literally provide a window to the brain. It can help patients with life-threatening neurological disorders, such as brain cancers, traumatic brain injuries, neurodegenerative diseases and stroke, by allowing doctors to deliver minimally invasive laser-based treatments. The recent studies have highlighted that the implant material is biocompatible and has the ability to endure bacterial infections.

The Window to the Brain project led by Gisuillermo Aguilar, professor of mechanical engineering in UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering, and Santiago Camacho-López, from the Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE) in Mexico is a mammoth project that is multi-institutional and interdisciplinary. Aguilar and his team had developed a transparent version of the material yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ) ” it is the same ceramic product used in hip implants and dental crowns. With its development, this projected started off. The team hopes to use it as a window-like implant, which will enable doctors to aim laser-based treatments into patients’ brains when needed. This will rule out the need to perform repeated craniotomies – which are highly invasive procedures used to access the brain.

YSZ boasts of internal toughness which is more impact resistant than glass-based materials developed by other researchers. It makes it the only transparent skull implant that could conceivably be used in humans. The two recent studies also support the claim that YSZ can be a promising alternative for currently available cranial implants.

The most recent study published recently in the journal Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, it is demonstrated by using transparent YSZ may allow doctors to combat bacterial infections, which are the number one cause of cranial implant failure. In lab studies, E-Coli infections were treated by researchers by aiming laser light through the implant without having to remove it and without damaging the surrounding tissues.

Devin Binder, M.D., a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist in UCR’s School of Medicine and a collaborator on the project opined that it is an important finding as it showed that the combination of our transparent implant and laser-based therapies had the ability to help treat not only brain disorders, but also to tackle bacterial infections that are common after cranial implants. These infections are particularly challenging to treat because many antibiotics do not penetrate the blood brain barrier.

The other study which supports YSZ explored its biocompatibility in an animal model. The findings were published in the journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine. As a part of this study, YSZ was integrated into the host tissue without causing an immune response or other adverse effects.

Aguilar shared that YSZ was actually found to be more biocompatible than currently available materials, such as titanium or thermo-plastic polymers. It is definitely very encouraging news in the development of transparent YSZ as the material of choice for cranial implants.