A fresh look at neuroradiology

Prof. Dr. med. Christoph Stippich is the new chairman of the Department of Neuroradiology at the University Hospital Zurich. He started his position in January 2018. We talked with Prof. Stippich about his research interests and plans for the clinic.

ZNZ News: What is your expertise and your main research interest?
Prof. Stippich: I started my academic career working on functional and multimodal neuroimaging of brain tumors in Erlangen and Heidelberg with a focus on development, implementation and translation of novel MRI techniques into clinical applications. This was complemented by imaging research in neurovascular diseases and stroke. In 2009 I was appointed to division head and full professor for neuroradiology in Basel and had the chance to expand my research spectrum also to quantitative neuroimaging, primarily for multiple sclerosis and neurodegenerative diseases. Furthermore, we have linked advanced structural and functional neuroimaging techniques to study brain connectivity.

In a more clinical context we substantially contributed to establishing the stroke center in Basel, with implementation of latest neurovascular imaging and a complete set up of the interventional neuroradiology service. Hence, during the course of my career I have gained expertise in both disciplines diagnostic and interventional neuroradiology, with neuroimaging being my main research area.

What has been an important contribution to the field?
Functional MRI using the blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) technique came up in the early 1990s and was mainly used for noninvasive research on human brain function in healthy subjects. Due to technical and practical difficulties clinical applications were very rare at that time. This opened up the opportunity for me and my research team to pioneer the transformation of fMRI from a research application into standard clinical neuroimaging procedure. My professorial thesis (Habilitation) in Heidelberg focused on this subject. An important aim of this type of imaging is to ensure that tumors in or adjacent to so called “eloquent” brain areas can be operated on with the best possible functional preservation of the brain. For this purpose, the cortical motor, sensory or speech centers are activated and visualized along with important connecting white matter tracts. In this way, it is possible to provide surgeons with information that helps reduce the risk for the patient, while at the same time enabling radical surgery.

Why did you choose to come to Zurich?
For me, this is an entirely logical step and it is somehow going back to my roots. In Heidelberg and Erlangen during most of my training, I have worked in a so-called “head clinic” (Kopfklinik), i.e. a dedicated hospital building that houses at least the three major clinical neuro disciplines neurology, neurosurgery and neuroradiology which directly work together with specialized neuro-intensive and -intermediate care units. This results in a clinical quality and research environment that is hard to achieve otherwise.

And here, in Zurich, I find the same ideal conditions with all clinical neuro disciplines located adjacent to each other and with experts working closely together. The department of neuroradiology in Zurich is a world renowned institution with an exceptional infrastructure that includes an MRI-center, CT-scanner and two biplanar neuroangiography suites for diagnostic and therapeutic endovascular procedures, plus a research unit for angiography. Last but not least, Zurich has an outstanding academic environment with the ETH, the ZNZ and the Clinical Neurocenter. This environment will allow me to drive progress in neuroradiology both academically and clinically. You can’t do that in many places in the world.

What are your plans for the clinic?
The diagnostic neuroradiology service (mainly neuroimaging with MRI and CT) will be updated. I want to especially support neurooncology, neurodegenerative diseases, neuroimmunology / MS and neurovascular diseases / stroke by sub-specialization of responsible expert neuroradiologists.

The focus in interventional neuroradiology, which is traditionally strong in Zurich, is on maintaining the high level of expertise and to further advance it in specific areas, including stroke therapy. Worldwide, we observe a shift in neuroradiology towards acute medicine. Where radiologists used to primarily do imaging, we have now become also “emergency doctors”. This field is extremely dynamic, exciting and has a lot of potential for development, seeing the high level of knowledge and the great research environment we have in Zurich.

Last but not least I want to strongly support and shape the education of young neuroradiologists from Zurich. This requires close interaction with radiology, neurology and neurosurgery. As one of the two major neuroradiology departments in Switzerland – together with Berne – Zurich can ensure training of sufficient numbers of neuroradiologists to fulfill medical care need for Switzerland. And I don’t just want doctors to learn from text books and would therefore like to develop innovative concepts in further academic training.

 

More information

  • Prof. Dr. med. Stippich Curriculum Vitae
  • The Neuroradiology clinic website
  • Presentation Christoph Stippich: „Bildgebende Diagnostik bei Hirntumorpatienten“ (German) Video
  • University Hospital Zurich News (German)

 

Image: Neuroimaging of Brain tumors & metastases (Courtesy Prof. Stippich)

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