Master Thesis in Neuroimaging Group at Balgrist Campus

Investigation of Metabolic Changes in Hippocampus after Spinal Cord Injury using MRS

The Neuroimaging Group, led by Prof. Patrick Freund, at the Spinal Cord Injury Center at Balgrist University Hospital is looking for a motivated and skilled master student who wants to perform her/his master thesis in the field of clinical neuroscience and neuroimaging of human spinal cord injury.

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a devastating and life-changing event for patients, leading to immediate sensory, motor, and autonomic dysfunction below the level of injury and often results in a reduced quality of life. Following SCI, ascending and descending connections between the brain, spinal cord, and periphery are disrupted leading not only to degeneration of directly affected neurons and tracts but also to indirect atrophy of remote spinal cord and brain regions. However, the changes in the metabolic profile of many of these regions and the related behavioural consequences are largely unknown.

Project description:
In the context of our study aiming at identifying molecular processes underlying functional and structural changes in the hippocampal brain region after SCI, we will be conducting neuroimaging assessments and behavioural memory experiments in healthy control participants and SCI patients. After SCI, remote neurodegeneration and associated functional impairments have been observed in many brain regions. However, the hippocampus and its neurochemical profile after SCI are rather understudied when comparing to other neurological diseases and disorders.

To quantify metabolic changes in the hippocampus after SCI and investigate relationships of these results to potential neurodegeneration and functional impairments, we are going to use magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) of the hippocampus in healthy controls and SCI patients. In order to get information about behavioural correlates outside the scanner, healthy control participants and SCI patients will be tested using a standardized working memory task.

The aim:
We aim to improve our understanding of injury-induced alterations in the metabolic profile of the hippocampus as well as its structural changes after SCI. Furthermore, we try to identify memory task-derived functional correlates of the hippocampal metabolic levels measured.

The goal of the student will be to help organize and conduct the experiments as well as collecting and analysing the data. The student will be in charge of recruiting and testing healthy control participants and SCI patients. She/he will organize the assessments, perform the behavioural and clinical testing, and assist during MRS scans. The student will analyse neuroimaging and behavioural data with the goal to depict potential metabolic differences within the hippocampus between healthy control and SCI participants and to identify possible molecular-functional relationships.

Fig. 1: Representative MR images with hippocampal voxel placement on coronal, transversal, and sagittal sections
Fig. 2: Example spectrum with metabolic markers of different biochemical properties and their specific chemical shift

The candidate who aims to join this project should consider a minimum duration of 6 months (full-time thesis project or internship). The project could be started from now on but the exact date can be discussed.

* Recruiting healthy control participants and SCI patients
* Organizing the assessment/testing schedules
* Conducting the behavioural testing
* Assisting during MRS scans
* Managing patient data banks
* Collecting and analysing data
* Holding project and journal club presentations

Person specification:

* Student in Biology, Health Sciences and Technology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Psychology, Biomedical Imaging, Neuroscience, Human Movement Sciences, or related fields of study
* Interested in clinical neuroscience, motivated to work with SCI patients
* German speaker, fluent in English speaking and writing
* Obliging and friendly
* Multitasking during patient assessments (small talk but still able to stick to tight schedule)
* Self-organised and independent
* Disciplined, dedicated, and reliable

Better to have:
* Experience in patient communication
* Experience in processing data
* Experience with Matlab or other programming languages
* Good knowledge of statistics and experience with statistical programs

Contact Details:

If you are interested, please submit a short motivation letter and CV via e-mail to:

MSc Dario Pfyffer