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Funded PhD Student Position: Intraoperative Monitoring of Spinal Surgery

Narrowing of the spaces surrounding the spinal cord (stenosis) can affect communication between the brain and the peripheral nervous system, which may impede muscle control, cause paralysis and pain. To treat a stenosis at the level of the neck, cervical decompression surgery is performed, during which parts of the bone that compress the affected nerves are removed. Currently, assessment of whether enough material has been taken out can only be done after the intervention. The goal of this project is to develop a method for intraoperative monitoring of the progress of cervical decompression surgery. To this end, we will rely on continuous measurements of cerebrospinal fluid pressure and online analysis of this signal using statistical, structural, fluid dynamic and physiological analysis as well as modeling.

Project and Research Team Description

Under normal physiological conditions, lumbar cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressure is pulsatile and responsive to intracranial pressure changes. In patients with cervical stenosis, the communication between cranium and spine is disrupted, leading to altered pulsation and pulse response. Upon successful decompression surgery, signals are expected to be restored. We will investigate intraoperatively the CSF pressure signal in time and frequency domains, and assess, for example using transfer functions and system identification, changes in the pressure wave propagation indicative of surgical progress. All patients will be evaluated with neurological examinations, magnetic resonance imaging and electrodiagnostics, providing data for system modeling. The ultimate goal of the research is to evaluate the value of CSF pressure indices for preoperative diagnostics and intraoperative monitoring. If the project is successful, insight into yet unknown CSF dynamics in spinal cord compression will be obtained, laying the groundwork for advancing management of spinal cord injuries and discovering entirely novel avenues to improve diagnosis and monitoring of spinal cord disease.

Our team consists of the University Spine Center Zurich at Balgrist University Hospital ( and The Interface Group at the University of Zurich ( The Spine Center provides highly specialized treatment for spinal cord injury patients by an interdisciplinary team of surgeons and neurologists. The Interface Group provides a creative, cross-disciplinary international work environment with outstanding infrastructure for computational research in biomedicine, physiology and biophysics. This unique constellation of clinical and basic sciences enables fast translation of research findings to benefit patients.

Qualifications of the Applicant

Your goal is to have an immediate impact on the lives of patients. You are intrigued by the potential of combining clinical and experimental data with computational modeling and signal analysis. You are comfortable with working alongside medical doctors in the operating theater, as well as writing code and analyzing data on the computer. You hold a master’s degree in engineering, physics or similar, and have very good English skills. To apply, send your CV and transcripts to Prof. Vartan Kurtcuoglu,


Research Fellow, Post-Doctoral and PhD Student Positions

If you would like to pursue a topic within our research area and are willing to acquire funding for that work, please contact Prof. Kurtcuoglu to explore options.

Semester, Bachelor and Master Projects

We are looking for talented students to join our team. You can find an overview of currently open projects here.