New brain imaging technique through clear ‘window’ in patient’s skull

Scientists have designed and implanted a transparent “window” in a patient’s skull and then used functional ultrasound imaging (fUSI) through it to collect high-resolution brain imaging data.

The results of the study are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“This is the first time anyone had applied functional ultrasound imaging through a skull replacement in an awake, behaving human performing a task,” says co-author Charles Liu, a professor of clinical neurological surgery,  at the Keck School of Medicine, the University of Southern California.

“The ability to extract this type of information noninvasively through a window is pretty significant, particularly since many of the patients who require skull repair have or will develop neurological disabilities.

“In addition, ‘windows’ can be surgically implanted in patients with intact skulls if functional information can help with diagnosis and treatment.”

The research participant, 39-year-old Jared Hager, sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from a skateboarding accident in 2019. Half of Hager’s skull was removed during emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, which left part of his brain covered only by skin and connective tissue.

Functional ultrasound imaging records brain activity by measuring changes in blood flow. However, it cannot be done through the skull or a traditional implant.

So, after testing in animal models, Liu and colleagues designed a Hager custom skull implant made from clear polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA).

They then collected fUSI data while Hager completed several tasks, before his surgery and after the clear implant was installed, to compare them.

“The fidelity of course decreased, but importantly, our research showed that it’s still high enough to be useful,” Liu said.

“And unlike other brain-computer interface platforms, which require electrodes to be implanted in the brain, this has far less barriers to adoption.”

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