Welcome to Neuroscience Center Zurich

Prof. Dr. Martin Wolf


Head of Biomedical Optics Research Laboratory
Clinic of Neonatology
University Hospital Zurich

Frauenklinikstr. 10
8091 Zurich

Tel.: +41 44 255 5346
Fax: +41 44 255 4442

Main Goals, Keywords

The Biomedical Optics Research Laboratory (BORL) is focused on the development of diagnostic tools using light and their application in research and clinics. Near-infrared imaging (NIRI) is a quickly growing method to non-invasively study human tissue using near infrared light, which penetrates tissue several cm deep and therefore enables to study brain oxygenation, perfusion and function (Near-infrared imaging, near-infrared spectrophotometry, tissue oxygenation, tissue perfusion, brain function, neuronal activity, brain development)

Group Members

1 Lecturer, 3 postdoctoral research associates (engineering, physics, medicine), 4.5 PhD students, 2 technicians, 2-4 Master Students

Previous and Current Research

1. Development of instrumentation, in particular quantitative near-infrared spectrophotometry (NIRS) and imaging (NIRI), a non-invasive, continuous technique at the bedside, which uses light to analyze tissue. The expertise includes the development of instrumentation (sensors, driving electronics, frequency domain, and continuous wave systems), software (real time drivers, graphic user interfaces, and post-processing tools) and algorithms (biomedical signal analysis, image reconstruction). BORL successfully invented, developed and clinically applied innovative optical technology to study brain oxygenation, perfusion and function. Further developments include improvement of spatial resolution, precision and miniaturization (e.g. wireless NIRS systems) and depending on the application the necessary modifications of the hard- and software.

2. Clinical testing and physiological research, such as the non-invasive assessment of the composition, function, perfusion and oxygenation of muscle, brain and other tissue.

One key application is the functional investigation of the brain. The aim is to develop a method to assess normal brain function and development (in neonates and infants) and the influence of pathologies, e.g. the functional severity of brain lesions in adult or neonatal intensive care patients at the bedside. Two types of signals are analyzed: a. Neuronal activity, i.e. the optical changes directly associated with neuronal activity and b. The slow hemodynamic signal, which reflects a change in hemodynamics indirectly caused by neuronal activity through neurovascular coupling. Both signals can be observed non-invasively through the intact skull. We are using imaging techniques, which allow an online assessment of a whole region of the brain.

Future Projects

3D Imaging systems with high spatial resolution and wearable NIRI systems will be created. The latter enable us to study brain function in everyday situations, which involve free movement of subjects, such as e.g. the mirror neuron system.

Using our current wireless and other NIRI systems we study brain perfusion and function in preterm infants and sleep apnea, stroke and other neurological diseases in adults. In healthy subjects we plan multimodal studies including EEG and fMRI. Generally the range of NIRS and NIRI applications is broad.

Techniques and Equipment


Near-infrared imaging (NIRI) is a quickly growing method to non-invasively study human tissue using near infrared light, which penetrates tissue several cm deep. The method is appreciated by patients and researchers, because it is quantitative, measures continuously, is painless, can be used at the bedside, is relatively inexpensive and can easily be combined with other modalities such as e.g. fMRI and EEG. Based on established physical models light absorption and scattering of tissue can be measured, which in turn yields important physiological parameters (perfusion and oxygenation) and allows to monitor the function of biological tissue. Using multiple wavelengths the concentration of constituents of tissue such as oxyhemoglobin, deoxyhemoglobin, water, lipids and cytochrome oxydase can be quantified. Multiple light source and detector combinations produce images of whole tissue areas. The figure shows a wireless NIRI sensor to study brain function in healthy neonates. These sensors can also be applied in adult subjects.


Selected Publications

Selected Lectures, Seminars, Colloquia


Swiss National Science Foundation, Swiss Academy of Technical Sciences, Innovation Promotion Agency (KTI/CTI), Swiss Federal Veterinary Office (BVET), the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (BAG), EMDO Foundation, Herzog Egli Foundation.


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