- Press Release Distribution

USC researchers pioneer new brain imaging technique through clear “window” in patient’s skull

In a proof-of-concept study, a research team based at the Keck School of Medicine of USC showed that functional ultrasound imaging can record brain activity through a transparent skull implant.

USC researchers pioneer new brain imaging technique through clear “window” in patient’s skull

In the first study of its kind, researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) designed and implanted a transparent window in the skull of a patient, then used functional ultrasound imaging (fUSI) to collect high-resolution brain imaging data through the window. Their preliminary findings suggest that this sensitive, non-invasive approach could open new avenues for patient monitoring and clinical research, as well as broader studies of how the brain functions.

“This is the first time anyone had applied functional ultrasound imaging through a skull replacement in an awake, behaving human performing a task,” said Charles Liu, MD, PhD, a professor of clinical neurological surgery, urology and surgery at the Keck School of Medicine and director of the USC Neurorestoration Center. “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. During emergency surgery, half of Hager’s skull was removed to relieve pressure on his brain, leaving part of his brain covered only with skin and connective tissue. Because of the pandemic, he had to wait more than two years to have his skull restored with a prosthesis. 

During that time, Hager volunteered for earlier research conducted by Liu, Jonathan Russin, MD, associate surgical director of the USC Neurorestoration Center, and another Caltech team on a new type of brain imaging called fPACT. The experimental technique had been done on soft tissue, but could only be tested on the brain in patients like Hager who were missing a part of their skull. When the time came for implanting the prosthesis, Hager again volunteered to team up with Liu and his colleagues, who designed a custom skull implant to study the utility of fUSI—which cannot be done through the skull or a traditional implant—while repairing Hager’s injury.

Before the reconstructive surgery, the research team tested and optimized fUSI parameters for brain imaging, using both a phantom (a scientific device designed to test medical imaging equipment) and animal models. They then collected fUSI data from Hager while he completed several tasks, both before his surgery and after the clear implant was installed, finding that the window offered an effective way to measure brain activity. The research, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, was just published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Functional brain imaging, which collects data on brain activity by measuring changes in blood flow or electrical impulses, can offer key insights about how the brain works, both in healthy people and those with neurological conditions. But current methods, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and intracranial electroencephalography (EEG) leave many questions unanswered. Challenges include low resolution, a lack of portability or the need for invasive brain surgery. fUSI may eventually offer a sensitive and precise alternative.

“If we can extract functional information through a patient’s skull implant, that could allow us to provide treatment more safely and proactively,” including to TBI patients who suffer from epilepsy, dementia, or psychiatric problems, Liu said.

A new frontier for brain imaging

As a foundation for the present study, Liu has collaborated for years with Mikhail Shapiro, PhD and Richard Andersen, PhD, of Caltech, to develop specialized ultrasound sequences that can measure brain function, as well as to optimize brain-computer interface technology, which transcribes signals from the brain to operate an external device.

With these pieces in place, Liu and his colleagues tested several transparent skull implants on rats, finding that a thin window made from polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)—which resembles plexiglass—yielded the clearest imaging results. They then collaborated with a neurotechnology company, Longeviti Neuro Solutions, to build a custom implant for Hager.

Before surgery, the researchers collected fUSI data while Hager did two activities: solving a “connect-the-dots” puzzle on a computer monitor and playing melodies on his guitar. After the implant was installed, they collected data on the same tasks, then compared the results to determine whether fUSI could provide accurate and useful imaging data.

“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.”

fUSI may offer finer resolution than fMRI and unlike intracranial EEG, it does not require electrodes to be implanted inside the brain. It is also less expensive than those methods and could provide some clinical advantages for patients over non-transparent skull implants, said Russin, who is also an associate professor of neurological surgery at the Keck School of Medicine and director of cerebrovascular surgery at Keck Hospital of USC.

“One of the big problems when we do these surgeries is that a blood clot can form underneath the implant, but having a clear window gives us an easy way to monitor that,” he said.

Refining functional ultrasound technology

In addition to better monitoring of patients, the new technique could offer population-level insights about TBI and other neurological conditions. It could also allow scientists to collect data on the healthy brain and learn more about how it controls cognitive, sensory, motor and autonomic functions.

“What our findings shows is that we can extract useful functional information with this method,” Liu said. “The next step is: What specific functional information do we want, and what can we use it for?”

Until the new technologies undergo clinical trials, fUSI and the clear implant are experimental. In the meantime, the research team is working to improve their fUSI protocols to further enhance image resolution. Future research should also build on this early proof-of-concept study by testing more participants to better establish the link between fUSI data and specific brain functions, the researchers said.

“Jared is an amazing guy,” said Liu, who is continuing to collaborate with the study participant on refining new technologies, including laser spectroscopy, which measures blood flow in the brain. “His contributions have really helped us explore new frontiers that we hope can ultimately help many other patients.”

About this research

In addition to Liu, Russin, Shapiro and Andersen, the study’s other authors are Kay Jann, PhD, from the Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute, Keck School of Medicine of USC; Claire Rabut, Sumner Norman and Whitney Griggs from the California Institute of Technology; and Vasileios Christopoulos from the University of California Riverside.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health [R01NS123663]; the T&C Chen Brain-Machine Interface Center; the Boswell Foundation; the National Eye Institute [F30 EY032799]; the Josephine de Karman Fellowship; the UCLA-Caltech Medical Scientist Training Program [NIGMS T32 GM008042]; the Della Martin Postdoctoral Fellowship; the Human Frontier Science Program Cross-Disciplinary Fellowship [LT000217/2020-C]; the USC Neurorestoration Center; and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


[Attachments] See images for this press release:
USC researchers pioneer new brain imaging technique through clear “window” in patient’s skull USC researchers pioneer new brain imaging technique through clear “window” in patient’s skull 2


Rahimi Wins CAREER Award for Electrochemical Carbon Capture Research

Rahimi Wins CAREER Award for Electrochemical Carbon Capture Research
HOUSTON, May 29, 2024 – Mim Rahimi, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, has received a National Science Foundation CAREER award for his research proposal focusing on liquid-liquid interfaces for electrochemical carbon capture research. His research proposal is “Leveraging Liquid-Liquid Interfaces for Innovative Electrochemical Carbon Capture.” It was selected for $537,719 in funding, with research running through August 2029. “The project ...

As racial diversity and income rise, civilian injuries by police fall

An analysis of civilian injuries resulting from interactions with police in Illinois found that residents of all races and ethnicities are more likely to sustain injuries if they live in economically under-resourced areas. The risk of injury decreases as communities become more racially diverse, the researchers found.  The study from the University of Illinois Chicago analyzed information on nearly 5,000 injuries caused by police that were treated in Illinois hospitals between 2016 and 2022. The researchers then compared that information with socioeconomic data from the U.S. Census on each injured person’s home ZIP code. The study is published in the ...

Mason CARES intervention reduces stress and feelings of burden of family caregivers of older adults with dementia

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80% of those living with dementia receive informal care from family members or friends. This equates to 16 million family caregivers in the U.S. However, caring for family members with dementia is often associated with increased caregiver burden (which includes emotional, physical, and financial strain), stress, and worse physical health for the caregiver.   A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology, led by George Mason University researchers, found that a 9-week online stress ...

Fatal attraction: When endangered species try to mate with domestic relatives, both wildlife and people lose

Sticks and stones aren’t enough to thwart biological attraction, but sometimes those are the only tools available to pastoralists trying to prevent wildlife from eloping with their livestock.   A new study led by Colorado State University brings awareness to both the human impacts of these encounters – ranging from economic loss to death – and conservation concerns for the wild animals that are often endangered.     Conserving threatened and endangered species is a globally recognized priority, but justice and equity for the marginalized pastoralist populations around the world who experience conflict with these species are often ...

Mass General Cancer Center researchers present key findings at ASCO

Leaders from the Mass General Cancer Center, a member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, will present research discoveries and outcomes from clinical trials in cancer at the 2024 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, held May 31-June 4, in Chicago. ASCO brings together leading experts in clinical oncology to share the latest breakthroughs in cancer research, science and medicine. Presentations from Mass General Cancer Center investigators include a plenary session on palliative care delivery via telehealth versus in-person for patients with advanced lung cancer. Oral presentations ...

Experimental physics leads to award-winning research

Experimental physics leads to award-winning research
NEWPORT NEWS, VA – Physicist Holly Szumila-Vance has always been curious about how the world works. Throughout her career, she has never been afraid to tackle new and tough challenges to satisfy that curiosity. In doing so, she has helped reveal new details of how the ubiquitous proton interacts with the strong force inside matter. Now, her work to reveal the nature of matter at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has just won special recognition: the prestigious 2024 Guido Altarelli Award – Experimental ...

Could a medicated foam make gene therapies more accessible?

Could a medicated foam make gene therapies more accessible?
SEATTLE — May 29, 2024 — Foam mixed with medications is already used to treat conditions such as varicose veins, hemorrhoids, wounds on the skin and even hair loss. Now, Fred Hutch Cancer Center scientists have found that foam might also be used as a vehicle to deliver expensive gene therapies. Published May 28 in Nature Communications, bioengineer Matthias Stephan, MD, PhD, and his Fred Hutch team report that a foaming liquid worked better than a standard liquid formulation at transferring gene therapy components to cells in laboratory studies.  “Gene therapies are the new wave of medicine, but they are extremely ...

Lehigh University researchers secure $2.5M DOE grant to characterize, extract rare earth elements from utility waste

Lehigh University researchers secure $2.5M DOE grant to characterize, extract rare earth elements from utility waste
The waste generated by power generation utility companies could be a potential source of metals and minerals that are key components of modern electronics, batteries, vehicles, and the clean-energy industry as a whole. Zheng Yao, principal research scientist within Lehigh University’s Energy Research Center (ERC), and a multidisciplinary team of researchers recently received a $2.5 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) to identify rare earth elements (REEs) and elements of interest (EOIs) in wastewater and solid waste streams, and to develop the technology that could extract those elements.  The project team includes ...

National Science Board elects first industry leader in 30 years

National Science Board elects first industry leader in 30 years
Darío Gil, Ph.D., IBM Senior Vice President and Director of Research and a member of the Board of Trustees for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), has been elected chair of the National Science Board (NSB). The NSB is the governing board of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and adviser to Congress and the President on policy matters related to STEM research and STEM education. “Darío Gil’s insights and innovative thinking will be indispensable to his leadership of the NSB,” said RPI President Martin A. Schmidt, Ph.D. “His election speaks volumes about his exceptional talents ...

New technique from Brown University researchers offers more precise maps of the Moon’s surface

New technique from Brown University researchers offers more precise maps of the Moon’s surface
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A new study by Brown University researchers may help redefine how scientists map the surface of the Moon, making the process more streamlined and precise than ever before. Published in the Planetary Science Journal, the research by Brown scholars Benjamin Boatwright and James Head describes enhancements to a mapping technique called shape-from-shading. The technique is used to create detailed models of lunar terrain, outlining craters, ridges, slopes and other surface hazards. By analyzing the way light hits different surfaces of the Moon, it allows researchers to estimate the three-dimensional ...


The research was wrong: study shows moderate drinking won’t lengthen your life

Save your data on printable magnetic devices? New laser technique’s twist might make this reality

Early onset dementia more common than previously reported – the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease seems to be on the rise

Pesticides potentially as bad as smoking for increased risk in certain cancers

NUS researchers develop new battery-free technology to power electronic devices using ambient radiofrequency signals

New protein discovery may influence future cancer treatment

Timing matters: Scripps Research study shows ways to improve health alerts

New gene therapy approach shows promise for Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Chemical analyses find hidden elements from renaissance astronomer Tycho Brahe’s alchemy laboratory

Pacific Northwest launches clean hydrogen energy hub

Tiny deletion in heart muscle protein briefly affects embryonic ventricles but has long-term effects on adult atrial fibrillation

Harms of prescribing NSAIDs to high risk groups estimated to cost NHS £31m over 10 years

Wearing a face mask in public spaces cuts risk of common respiratory symptoms, suggests Norway study

Some private biobanks overinflating the value of umbilical cord blood banking in marketing to expectant parents

New research in fatty liver disease aims to help with early intervention

Genetics reveal ancient trade routes and path to domestication of the Four Corners potato

SNIS 2024: New study shows critical improvements in treating rare eye cancer in children

Wearable devices can increase health anxiety. Could they adversely affect health?

Addressing wounds of war

Rice researchers develop innovative battery recycling method

It’s got praying mantis eyes

Stroke recovery: It’s in the genes

Foam fluidics showcase Rice lab’s creative approach to circuit design

Montana State scientists publish evidence for new groups of methane-producing organisms

Daily rhythms depend on receptor density in biological clock

New England Journal of Medicine publishes outcomes from practice-changing E1910 trial for patients with BCR::ABL1-negative B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Older adults want to cut back on medication, but study shows need for caution

Nationwide flood models poorly capture risks to households and properties

Does your body composition affect your risk of dementia or Parkinson’s?

Researchers discover faster, more energy-efficient way to manufacture an industrially important chemical

[] USC researchers pioneer new brain imaging technique through clear “window” in patient’s skull
In a proof-of-concept study, a research team based at the Keck School of Medicine of USC showed that functional ultrasound imaging can record brain activity through a transparent skull implant.