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Guillermo Aguilar

Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Guillermo Aguilar
Inventing a Window to the Brain
It sounds like a page straight out of science fiction novel, but Guillermo Aguilar is busy working to make it a present-day reality. Aguilar and his team have developed a “Window to the Brain”—a cranial implant with optical transparency—that will enable physicians to treat neurological disorders, such as brain cancer and traumatic brain injury (TBI), without multiple invasive operations.

Areas of Expertise

Areas of Expertise:
  • Laser tissue interactions
  • Thermal processes in biomedical optics and medical laser applications
  • Thermo-mechanical response of human tissue
  • Laser-assisted cryosurgery
  • Photopneumatic therapy
  • Droplet deposition, thermodynamics, and heat transfer induced by atomized sprays
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Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Fellow, American Society of Lasers in Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS)
  • Editorial Board Member, International Liquid Atomization and Spray Systems (ILASS)
  • Member, International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE)
  • Member, American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
  • Member, Society of Hispanic Professionals and Engineers (SHPE)
  • Member, Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS)
  • Member, Sociedad Mexicana de Fisica (SMF)

Q&A

Q: Why is your research important?
At its core, my research aims to provide solutions to a variety of medical problems. In general, it aims at using the physical principles of mass, fluid, heat, and light transport to develop procedures and/or devices that help in the solution of various medical problems.

Our recent work on “Windows to the Brain (WttB)”, for example, helps us understand how to tailor new materials so they can better integrate with optical diagnostics and therapeutic techniques. The ultimate goal of this project is to provide a new transparent skull implant that will enable doctors to better treat chronic disorders, such as brain cancer, traumatic brain injury (TBI), edema, and more. Whether we’re seeking to improve dermatologic laser procedures, treat prostate cancer, detect circulating melanoma, or provide optical access to brain tissue, the end goal is to improve the quality—or even extend the expectancy—of patients’ lives.

Q: What are some of the implications of your research on “Windows to the Brain”?
Given its multi-disciplinary nature, it is opening the door for various parallel projects in a variety of engineering disciplines. Developing a transparent implant with optimal mechanical properties poses an interesting challenge for the materials synthesis experts of the group. If our project is successful, our implants could be used for long-term pre-clinical studies. Researchers could use them in brain activity mapping studies. In the long term, we expect an implant of this kind would provide many neurosurgeons with a preferable alternative to other human cranial implants. In addition, as more surgeons and specialists become familiar with transparent materials of this kind, we hope they can help us discover other innovative applications.

Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while working on WttB?
There are challenges associated with the material post-processing of these implants. We’re trying to write waveguides across the implants to allow for laser light to be transported all the way through them. If we are successful, we could improve the interrogation depth into brain tissue relative to implants without waveguides. Also, there is a series of biocompatibility studies that we are conducting to prove that implants of this nature will be able to withstand the harsh biological environment once they are surgically implanted. Finally, we still need to address the challenge of rendering the scalp temporarily transparent so that the optical properties of these implants can be fully exploited for in-situ chronic access to the brain, whether it is for optical diagnostics or therapeutics or both.

Q: What’s next for your research?
There is a lot of work that remains to be done in WttB. Materials synthesis, laser processing, biocompatibility, and optical clearing of tissue are all distinct and complementary research areas that our group effort is tackling more or less in parallel. Students from all levels and multiple institutions, postdocs and additional researchers are starting to join in this collaborative effort. Talking about our work in multiple diverse forums has helped to foster a lot of interesting new ideas.

Q: Why is UCR a great place to do research?
UCR has a strong sense of community, which makes it unique among other research universities. Undergraduate and graduate students come from a wide variety of social and ethnical backgrounds. This characteristic alone broadens the perspective of all we do here. Furthermore, it provides incredible new ideas that drive new research, which would be hard to imagine in a homogeneous environment.

Q: What does “Living the Promise” mean to you?
For me, living the promise is an opportunity to communicate the work my group and I do to a broad audience, particularly to an increasingly large community of students and researchers who are paying attention to UCR.

Q: What advice do you have for students graduating in the next five years?
I would advise students to feel proud of the opportunity UCR gave them to participate in an excellent research community. I’d also recommend they maintain a connection with their former labs, classmates and professors, regardless of where they go and what they do. The skills they learned at UCR will hopefully launch them to achieve very successful careers, and the strong ties they built (and hopefully maintain) will help their careers to evolve more successfully.
Guillermo Aguilar “Whether we’re seeking to improve dermatologic laser procedures, treat prostate cancer, detect circulating melanoma, or provide optical access to brain tissue, the end goal is to improve the quality—or even extend the expectancy—of patients’ lives.”

—Guillermo Aguilar
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