Skylight in the skull lets the ultrasound in
Ultrasound is already utilized to treat brain disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, plus it can be used to kill cancer cells and to dissolve stroke-causing blood clots. Unfortunately, however, the thickness and density of the skull absorbs or reflects much of the ultrasound before it reaches the brain, making treatments less effective than they would be otherwise. That said, a solution may be on the way, in the form of what's being called a "window to the brain."
Developed by scientists at the University of California, Riverside along with colleagues from three Mexican research institutes, the window actually consists of an implant which is located beneath the scalp, replacing part of the cranium.
It's made from a ceramic material known as Yttria Stabilized Zirconia (YSZ), which is biocompatible, extremely hard and shatter-resistant. Due to these qualities, it's already used in applications such as dental crowns and hip replacements. Importantly though, the material also has a very low porosity, which allows targeted ultrasound waves to easily pass through during repeated treatment sessions.
A previous version of the technology has already been developed to let therapeutic laser light pulses get through to the brain, and it's currently in pre-clinical trials.
"Developing an optically and radio-frequency transparent cranial implant was already an exciting accomplishment, and we continue to work to make this implant a reality," says study co-leader Prof. Guillermo Aguilar. "Now, proving that ultrasound could be transmitted through the implant could expand its therapeutic capabilities even further."
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials.