A Tiny, Transparent Skull Implant Could Simplify Brain Surgery

Unlike past glass-based models, the new implant’s ceramic material will not shatter if someone bumps their head

brain surgery
Flickr user Kevitivity

Sending a laser into a person’s brain is a tricky operation. Surgical oncologists have been using lasers to cut out cancers for decades, but it wasn’t until just a few years ago that the FDA approved them for use on brain cancer. These lasers work by, Discovery News reports, “essentially cooking to death at 140 degrees F,” while doctors keep watch “to make sure the temperature of the surrounding cells was low enough so the healthy cells survived.”

These techniques are powerful enough, though, that neurosurgeons are increasingly turning to lasers as their method of choice for tackling not just cancer but brain disorders such as epilepsy and traumatic injuries. However, one obvious problem remains: every time doctors need to perform a laser procedure, they must remove a section or skull or drill a hole into it. If you’re unlucky enough to require several of these procedures, all of that repeat skull smashing can cause complications.

Now, a new transparent skull implant may provide doctors with a tiny “window into the brain” from which they can study and potentially treat disorders such as brain cancer and traumatic injuries, the University of California, Riverside, reports. The transparent implant is inserted into the patient’s skull and is made from  material is made out of  yttria-stabilized zirconia, a type of ceramic commonly used in hip implants and dental crowns. In the past, other scientific teams have propose versions of transparent skull implants, but unlike those glass-based models, the yttria-stabilized zirconia material will not shatter if someone bumps their head.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Building a Human Brain 
What Is the BRAIN Initiative, Anyway? 

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