PFIG people

We are an interdisciplinary team of clinicians, neuroscientists, physicists, and bioengineers.

From left (Tanya Poppe, Maria Yanez Lopez, Tomoki Arichi, Sofia Dall’Orso, Judit Ciarrusta)

Dr Tomoki Arichi (Group head)

Tom is a MRC Clinician Scientist and Clinical Senior Lecturer in the Centre for the Developing Brain, King’s College London. His current work aims to apply non-invasive imaging techniques (EEG, functional MRI and simultaneous EEG-fMRI) to characterise the development of functional activity in the human brain, during fetal and preterm life and following brain injury. He is also aiming to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying biophysics of the fMRI signal in the newborn brain. He also holds a visiting position in the Human Robotics group at Imperial College London, where they are developing novel tools for use in the MRI scanner and automated rehabilitative strategies for young infants who have suffered brain injury.  

Tom also holds an honorary position as a Consultant in Paediatric Neurodisability in the Evelina London Children’s Hospital. His clinical work is focused on the early identification and resulting management of the disabilities associated with perinatal brain injury.

Dr Tanya Poppe (Postdoctoral Research Associate)

Tanya is a Research Associate in the Centre for the Developing Brain, King’s College London. Her research interest is understanding brain development in preterm and term neonates. Tanya gained her PhD in 2019 from the University of Auckland for her work studying the neuroprotective effects of perinatal interventions for preterm birth using MRI in babies and children.

Tanya’s is currently working on using simultaneous EEG-fMRI in neonates to study the development of functional activity in the human brain. This work was recognised with a Summa cum Laude award as one of the top 5% of abstracts the ISMRM annual meeting 2019.

Dr Maria Yanez Lopez (Postdoctoral Research Associate)

Maria is a Research Associate in the Centre for the Developing Brain, King’s College London. Her research interests focus on the development of molecular magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to investigate the biochemistry of neurological and psychiatric disorders, with a view to characterising disease onset, improving early diagnosis and assessment of therapy effectiveness. Her background includes research in traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s Disease, with techniques such as magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST), both at clinical fields (3T) and high fields (9.4T preclinical).

Her current work is focused on studying the balance between excitatory (glutamate) and inhibitory (Gamma Amino-Butyric Acid (GABA)) neurotransmitter levels in newborn infants who have a high familial risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders, using edited 1H MRS methods. An abstract presenting this work was recently recognised by a Magnum Cum Laude award as one of the top 15% of abstracts at the ISMRM annual meeting 2020.

Dr Sara Neumane (Bettencourt Foundation fellow)

Sara has a double background and is qualified in France as an MD in Paediatrics (focusing on Neuropaediatrics and rehabilitation) but also has a PhD in Neuroscience (focusing on functional somatotopy, motor system and compensatory mechanisms in a pathological context).

Her research interests include studying structural & functional brain networks in typical and atypical development, sensorimotor system development and post-injury neuroplasticity, and functional outcomes following early acquired brain injuries.

Alumnus: Dr Sofia Dall’Orso (PhD student 2016-2019)

Sofia completed her PhD at Imperial College London, and is currently a postdoctoral research associate at Chalmers University Sweden and a visiting researcher at King’s College, London. She obtained her Physics BSc at the University of Bologna and the Neurotechnology MRes at Imperial College London as part of the EPSRC CDT (centre for doctoral training) programme. During her PhD, she is combining engineering and imaging techniques with robotic tools to perform task-based fMRI on newborn babies. Her research on brain development focuses in particular on the sensory system, comprising investigating somatotopic mapping in the preterm brain and the study of associate learning between different sensory modalities. She aims to better understand how the somatosensory system develops and how it can be influenced by environmental exposure and early sensory experiences.

Sofia’s publications:

Dall’Orso et al. Somatotopic mapping of the developing sensorimotor cortex in the preterm human brain. Cerebral Cortex 2018; 28(7): 2507-15.

Alumnus: Dr Judit Ciarrusta (PhD student 2015-2019)

Judit graduated from the University of Deusto in Bilbao in 2012 with an undergraduate degree in psychology, specialising in neuropsychology.
She then moved to Amsterdam to pursue a MSc in neuroscience research. As part of this, she worked with Dr. Meredith on characterising spontaneous activity in the Fragile X syndrome mouse model using calcium imaging. She then seconded at Harvard University where she worked with Dr Michela Fagiolini on NDMA receptor regulation to rescue respiratory abnormalities in the Rett syndrome mouse model.

Judit gained her PhD from King’s College London as part of Brainview, a Marie Curie Early Career Initiative investigating early autism risk markers. The focus of her PhD was on typical and atypical functional activity development using fMRI data from subjects with family history of autism (high risk) and without family history of psychiatric (low risk) to discern typical from atypical maturation mechanisms. The final goal was to understand the characteristics of typical brain development in order to discern MRI markers that can enable early identification of atypical development before behavioural symptoms emerge.

Judit’s publications:

Ciarrusta et al. Social brain functional maturation in newborn infants with and without family history of autism spectrum disorder.
JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(4):e191868.

Ciarrusta et al. Emerging functional connectivity differences in newborn infants vulnerable to autism spectrum disorders.Translational Psychiatry 2020; 10: Article number: 131.

Anna Jones (Neonatal physiotherapist)

Anna graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2009 with a BSc Hons in Physiotherapy. She has always had a strong interest in paediatrics and started working within the neonatal field in 2015 when she joined the Evelina London Children’s Hospital. She started her role as highly specialist neonatal physiotherapist on the neonatal unit at the Evelina in 2017, and works in the acute setting as well as within follow up neurodevelopmental clinics.  

Anna is very passionate about research, and recently completed her MSc in Advanced Paediatric Physiotherapy at University College London. She completed a research project investigating the predictive validity of the Lacey Assessment for Preterm Infants which is used on the neonatal unit to identify infants at high risk of neurodevelopmental difficulties. Anna joined the research team in June 2019 and is excited to work on projects to improve early identification of these infants at high risk, to ensure the best possible neurodevelopmental outcome. She is funded part-time on the EPSRC funded MAVEHA project.


Our work would not be possible without working closely with colleagues across different fields and in different institutions:

  • Dr Lorenzo Fabrizi (Neuroscience, Physiology & Pharmacology, UCL)
  • Professor Etienne Burdet (Human Robotics Group, Imperial College London)
  • Dr Bernhard Kainz (Computer Science, Imperial College London)
  • Professor Grainne McAlonan (IOPPN, King’s College London)
  • Professor Bill Fifer (Medical Psychology, Columbia University)