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3D-printed transparent skull gives a window to the brain



Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a unique 3D-printed, transparent skull implant for mice that allow for real-time viewing of activity on the entire brain surface. The unit enables basic brain research that can provide new insight into human brain conditions such as concussion, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

The research is published in Nature Communications . Researchers also plan to commercialize the device, as they call the See-Shell.

"What we are trying to do is to see if we can visualize and interact with much of the brain's surface, called the cortex, for long periods of time. This will give us new information on how the human brain works," says Suhasa Kodandaramaiah. , Ph.D., a co-author of the study and University of Minnesota, Benjamin Mayhugh, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the College of Science and Technology. "This technology allows us to see most of the cortex in action with unprecedented control and precision at the same time as we stimulate certain parts of the brain. "Previously, most researchers have looked at small regions of the brain and tried to understand it in detail. However, researchers now find that what happens in a part of the brain is likely to affect other parts of the brain. brain at the same time

One of their first studies with the See-Shell unit examines how mild brain concussions affect some parts of the brain when it restructures structurally and functionally. Kodandaramaiah said that mouse brains are very similar in many respects to human brains, and this device opens the door to similar studies on mice looking at degenerative brain diseases affecting humans such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.

The technology makes it possible for scientists to see global changes for the first time in an unprecedented time resolution. In a video produced using the device, the brightness of the mouse's brain changes to grow and decrease by neural activity. Subtle flashes are periods when the whole brain suddenly becomes active. The researchers are still trying to understand the cause of such a global coordinated activity and what it means for behavior.

"These are studies we could not do in humans, but they are extremely important for our understanding of how the brain works so that we can improve treatments for people experiencing brain damage or diseases," says Timothy J. Ebner, MD, Ph.D., a co-author of the study and a professor in the universities of Minnesota and head of the neuroscience department in the medical school.

To make See-Shell, researchers digitally scanned the surface of the skull and then used the digital scans to create an artificial transparent skull that has the same contours as the original skull. During a careful surgery, the upper part of the mouse code is replaced with the 3D-printed transparent shell device. The unit allows researchers to register brain activity while forming the entire brain in real time.

Another advantage of using this device is that the muscle's body did not reject the implant, which means that the researchers could study the same mouse brain for several months. Studies in mice over several months allow researchers to study brain aging in a way that would take decades to study in humans.

"This new device allows us to look at the brain activity at the lowest level and zoom in on specific neurons while giving a great picture view of much of the brain's surface over time," Kodanaramaiah said. "Developing the device and showing that it works is just the beginning of what we will be able to do to deepen brain research."

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In addition to Kodandaramaiah and Ebner, the research team was led by the fourth-year mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Leila Ghanbari. The research group included several postdoctoral staff, postgraduate students and undergraduate students including Russell E. Carter (neuroscience), Matthew L. Rynes (biomedical technology), Judith Dominguez (mechanical engineering), Gang Chen (neuroscience), Anant Naik (biomedical engineering), Jia Hu (biomedical) technology), Lenora Haltom (mechanical engineering), Nahom Mossazghi (neuroscience), Madelyn M. Gray (neuroscience) and Sarah L. West (neuroscience). The team also included partners at the University of Wisconsin including researcher Kevin W. Eliceiri and doctoral student Md Abdul Kader Sagar.

The research was funded primarily by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with additional support from the Minnesota Discovery, Research, and the InnoVation Economy (MnDRIVE) of Minnesota State funding. Several students participating in the research were supported by the University of Minnesota Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Education research was made possible by the advanced image management infrastructure at the University Education Center.

To read the entire research report, entitled "Cortex-wide Neural Interface via Transparent Polymer Skull", visit Nature Communications Web site.

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