Team members

Prof. Patrick Freund, MD, PhD

Group Leader

Patrick Freund received his doctorate in biology (Fribourg) in 2008 and in medicine (Zürich) in 2014. In 2018 he received the SNF Eccellenza Professorship at the University of Zurich. In 2020 he was awarded the Schellenberg price.

Based on his educational background (medicine and neuroscience) in combination with interests in the complex statistical analysis of imaging data he is spearheading the assessment of spinal cord injury beyond clinical and neurophysiological readouts by means of neuroimaging. In particularly, his research focuses on the multimodal assessment of functional and structural changes in the entire central nervous system caused by focal lesions of the spinal cord. His interdisciplinary work focuses on the development of high-resolution imaging techniques (3T and 7T) and therapeutic training as well as interventional studies. So far, he has secured about 13 million CHF as a PI/work package leader.

He holds affiliations with the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at the Queen Sqaure UCL Institute of Neurology and the Department of Neurophysics at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig.  

Sanne Kikkert, PhD

Associated Post-Doc Fellow

Sanne received her PhD degree on sensorimotor cortex plasticity in upper-limb amputees from the University of Oxford. She holds an MSc in Cognitive Neurosciences (2013) and a BSc in Psychology and Neurosciences (2011) from Maastricht University. In her postdoctoral research she uses fMRI to uncover brain reorganisation and persistent organisations following sensory input loss in spinal cord injury patients.

Dario Pfyffer

PhD student

Dario holds a Master's degree in Neuroscience from ETH Zurich (2017) and started his PhD in January 2018. His main research interest lies in the investigation of neuronal changes along the whole neuroaxis after spinal cord injury, assessed using structural, functional, and metabolic innovative neuroimaging techniques. Dario's aim is to improve lesion characterization and outcome prediction after spinal cord injury as well as to identify MRI biomarkers of injury-related pathologies such as neuropathic pain.

Sijamini Baskaralingam

Research assistant

Sijamini finished her research internship with the group in March 2021 for her master studies in Health Sciences and Technology at the ETH Zurich. As a research assistant, she keeps working for the face mapping project where we investigate changes of the face representation in the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) in SCI patients using fMRI.

Vasil Kecheliev

Master student

Vasil completed his BSc in Biomedical Sciences at Maastricht University (2016-19) and is currently engaged in his MSc Health Sciences and Technology studies with a major in Medical Technology at ETH Zürich (2019-present). His main interests include neuroscience, (clinical) imaging technologies and their applications, immunity, and their role in neuropathologies including SCI. At present, he is using the Spinal Cord Toolbox (SCT) to determine the reliability of multi-center qMRI multi-parametric mapping (MPM).

Charlotte Meneghin

Master student

Charlotte holds a Honours Bachelor of Sciences in Translational and Molecular Medicine from the University of Ottawa. She has three years of experience as a student researcher. She is currently a MSc candidate in Health Sciences and Technology at ETH Zürich, completing her research internship/master thesis under the supervision of Dr. Sanne Kikkert. Her research focuses on exploring the re-organization of the face map in the somatosensory cortex following spinal cord injury.

Maryam Seif, PhD

Senior Researcher, Deputy head

She is a senior researcher with a multi-disciplinary background, focusing on the interface of neuroimaging and clinical research. Her aspiration is to identify reliable and specific neuroimaging biomarkers by means of quantitative MRI and Spectroscopy to bridge the gap between MRI and its clinical applications in spinal cord and brain. Her current projects focus on identifying neuroimaging biomarker in NISCI trial, perfusion mapping of the spinal cord in the frame of WFL fellowship and metabolite investigation across spinal cord axis.

Nikolai Pfender, MD

Consultant Clinician

Nikolai is a Neurologist and clinical Neurophysiologist at Balgrist University Hospital. He does research on degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) focusing on phase contrast and microstructural MRI techniques and cerebrospinal fluid pressure dynamics (CSFP) to improve pathophysiological concepts and provide better diagnostic tools in DCM. 

Nikolai obtained his medical degree from the University of Freiburg, Germany. In his M.D. thesis he was investigating basic immunological mechanisms in the murine contact allergy model (Supervisor Prof. Thilo Jakob).

At the University Hospital Zurich, he was trained as a Neurologist with focus on clinical Neurophysiology (Prof. Hans Jung) and deep interest in Neuroimmunology an MS Research working in the group of Prof. Roland Martin as clinician scientist.

Simon Schading

PhD student

Simon obtained his Master's degree in Medicine from the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Examination in Human Medicine  in 2020 and started his PhD in February 2021. His research includes multimodal imaging of the whole neuroaxis after spinal cord injury (SCI) by applying structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods as well as MR spectroscopy to assess and track the pathophysiological changes following SCI. After finishing his PhD he is going to start his clinical training in Neuroradiology while staying closely connected to research. 

Cristian Achim

Master student

Cris is doing his MSc at ETH Zurich in Biomedical Engineering, focusing on medical image acquisition and processing. He did an internship at Balgrist on spinal cord MRI image processing and analysis and now he’s working on his master project on fMRI of the lumbosacral cord.

Raoul Seiler

Master student

Raoul is currently conducting his Master Thesis with the group. He received his BSc in electrical engineering at ETH Zurich. His main research interests are the analysis of clinical data and applied machine learning algorithms.

Viveka Boller

Master student

Viveka is doing her master’s degree in Health Science and Technology at the ETH Zurich. She recently joined the group to conduct an internship followed by her master thesis focusing on quantitative MRI to investigate microstructural changes and perfusion impairments following traumatic and non-traumatic spinal cord injury.

Gergely David, PhD

Post-Doctoral Fellow

Gergely David is a medical physicist who obtained his PhD at the University of Zurich in 2019. His main interests are the development and application of advanced MRI techniques in the spinal cord. During his PhD, he developed software for processing and analyzing spinal cord diffusion MRI data, and applied it in spinal cord injured patients. In his PostDoc, he continues to work on improving the state of the art of spinal imaging, mainly focusing on functional fMRI in the lumbar cord.

Tim Emmenegger

PhD student

Tim holds an MSc in Neuroscience (2019) and a BSc in Biology from the University of Zurich (2018). Before starting his PhD, he worked as a research assistant in the quantitative MRI and in vivo histology group headed by Siawoosh Mohammadi at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany. There he learned new methods to perform in vivo histology using MRI. Tim aims to translate these cutting-edge MRI methods to a clinical setting, improving the understanding of the pathological processes and mechanisms after a spinal cord injury.

Silvan Büeler

Associated PhD student

Silvan received his Master's degree in Health Sciences and Technology, with a major in Neuroscience, at ETH Zurich in 2019. In March 2020, he started his PhD in the Neuro-Urology group of the Spinal Cord Injury Center at Balgrist University Hospital under the direct supervision of Dr. Martina Liechti and Dr. Gergely David. Silvan will be using neuroimaging techniques (structural, diffusion, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)) and neurophysiological assessments to investigate neural correlates of lower urinary tract control.

Paige Howell

Master student

Paige holds a MSc in Exercise Physiology from The University of Sydney. She has four years of clinical experience working as an accredited Exercise Physiologist with neurological populations. She is currently a MSc candidate at ETH Zurich, completing her thesis under the supervision of Dr. Sanne Kikkert. Her research focuses on exploring the role of brainstem plasticity following spinal cord injury. 

Sandra Zimmermann

Master student

Sandra is currently pursuing her Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering at ETH Zurich after obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences and Technology in 2019. She has joined our group for the conduction of her master’s thesis where she investigates potential alterations in the hippocampus after spinal cord injury using magnetic resonance spectroscopy.