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3ders.org – 3D printed transparent skull shows scientists how the brain works

3 April 2019 By Thomas

Researchers from the University of Minnesota have developed a unique 3D-printed transparent skull implant for mice as a way to view real-time activity on the brain surface. The device, called See-Shell, could help provide new insight into human brain diseases such as concussions, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

"What we are trying to do is see if we can visualize and interact with large parts of the mouse brain surface, the cortex, over long periods of time. This will give us new information about how the human brain works," Suhasa said 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. "With this technology, we can see most of the cortex in action with unparalleled control and precision, while stimulating certain parts of the brain."

Traditionally, most scientists have focused on small areas of the brain and tried to understand it in detail. However, researchers now see that what happens in one part of the brain probably also affects other parts of the brain.

To make the See-Shell, researchers digitally scanned the surface of the mouse skull and used the digital scans to make an artificial transparent skull with the same contours as the original skull. During a precise operation, the top of the mouse skull is replaced by the 3D-printed transparent skull device. The device allows researchers to simultaneously record brain activity while displaying the entire brain in real time.

The technology allows researchers to see global changes for the first time in an unprecedented time resolution.

"With this new device, we can view brain activity at the smallest level, zoom in on specific neurons, while we get a large picture of a large part of the brain surface over time," said Kodandaramaiah. "Developing the device and showing it works is just the beginning of what we can do to promote brain research."

A video released by the university shows an accelerated mouse brain scan as seen by the See-Shell. "Changes in mouse brain brightness correspond to waxing and diminishing neural activity. Subtle flashes are periods in which the entire brain suddenly becomes active," the researchers note.

Another advantage of using this device is that the mouse body did not reject the implant, meaning that the researchers could study the same mouse brain for several months. This type of brain aging research would take decades to study with people.

"These are studies that we cannot do in humans, but they are very important for our understanding of how the brain works so that we can improve treatments for people who have brain damage or diseases," says Timothy J. Ebner, MD, Ph . D., a co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Minnesota and head of the neuroscience department at the medical faculty.

The research is published in Nature communication.

Posted in 3D Printing Application

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