PhD Researcher in Soft Tissue Structural and Mechanical Properties
University of Antwerp Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences

Department: Rehabilitation Sciences and Physiotherapy

Regime Full-time

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Vacancy PhD researcher University of Antwerp (1 year)

Fulltime (100%) PhD researcher for the STIMPRO project: Towards an understanding of the role of soft tissue structural and mechanical properties in upper limb function after breast cancer treatment: the SOFT-TI-TRIAL at the University of Antwerp.

About the research group

The project is a collaboration between the department of Rehabilitation Sciences of the University of Antwerp, MOVANT research group (Prof. An De Groef) and the Breast Clinic of the Antwerp University Hospital (Prof. Wiebren Tjalma).

The central research theme of MOVANT is rehabilitation and movement. This specific project fits in the focus domain ‘MoveAdapt – Measuring and improving adaptation’. The focus of MoveAdapt is threefold:

  • Screening, assessment and evaluation of adaptation processes in a biopsychosocial way by using comprehensive tools (e.g. Quantitative Sensory Testing, brain imaging, patient reported outcomes)
  • Studying mechanism of adaptation processes following the input-processing-output framework (e.g. coping mechanisms)
  • Improving management (treatment and prevention) of patients with disorders, including oncology populations, in adaptation processes (input-processing-output)

About the project

Impaired upper limb function, i.e. experiencing difficulties in performing activities of daily living with the upper limb, is with a prevalence rate of 50% at one year after surgery, very common following breast cancer treatment. Upper limb dysfunctions after breast cancer treatment are complex and multifactorial with a variety of possible contributing factors. Both in research and clinical practice, there is no doubt about the change in soft tissue properties due to breast cancer treatments, in particular surgery and radiotherapy. Problems with soft tissues include structural changes (including tissue composition and tissue volume) and altered mechanical properties (including tissue stiffness and impaired gliding of tissues relatively to each other). The challenge is to properly assess structural and mechanical properties of soft tissues to get a true understanding of their contribution to upper limb dysfunctions. Up to now, (subjective) methods with limited validity, in particular for deeper structures, were used. Soft tissue properties can be evaluated objectively in vivo by means of ultrasonography (US) and a wide range of add-ons, such as 3D freehand US volume measurement, speckle tracking and shear-wave elastography. The specific benefits of US (with its add-on techniques) allow a comprehensive objective assessment of both structural and mechanical properties of soft tissues at once. This will enable gaining knowledge on their role in upper limb function after breast cancer treatment, and as such moving the field of understanding soft tissue problems after breast cancer forward, as well as opening new avenues to better screening, prevention and treatment approaches of upper limb dysfunctions.

Therefore, the aim of this project is to develop and test the reliability of US techniques for the quantification (i.e. severity) of soft tissue properties. With these techniques, in the future, we will be able to determine the role of different soft tissue properties as a diagnostic and prognostic biomarker for upper limb dysfunctions during and after breast cancer treatment.

Your profile

  • You have a Master of Science in Rehabilitation Sciences and Kinesitherapy, Master of Science in Medicine or a Master of Science in Biomedical sciences or will obtain this degree before October 2022.
  • A highly motivated, enthusiastic, critical and creative individual to join our team.
  • You are interested in scientific research and motivated to start a PhD. You have already built up a good study and internship curriculum.
  • You enjoy working with patients in collaboration with a team of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and researchers.
  • You are Dutch-speaking, fluent in English and have good communication skills.
  • You have organizational skills, are accurate and eager to learn.
  • Flexible attitude

We offer

  • A dynamic research group with international expertise in the field of clinical oncological (after)care that will guide you in this project.
  • A creative environment with a study team, post-doctoral researchers, doctors and supervisors to carry out data collection and scientific tasks.
  • Contractual appointment in a PhD fellowship status for a period of 1 years
  • You will take on limited tasks of teaching and research support.

Starting date: September 2022 (based on availability)

Want to apply?

  • You can apply for this vacancy through the University of Antwerp’s online job application platform up to and including August 8, 2022. Click on the 'Apply' button, complete the online application form and be sure to include the following attachments: a motivation letter and your academic CV - click here for the optional job application appendix for BAP.
  • The selection committee will review all of the applications as soon as possible after the application deadline. As soon as a decision has been made, we will inform you about the next steps in the selection procedure. Please make a note of the following date for the interviews:  August 17, 2022 in the morning.
  • If you have any questions about the online application form, please check the frequently asked questions or send an email to If you have any questions about the job itself, please contact Prof. An De Groef (

The University of Antwerp received the European Commission’s HR Excellence in Research Award for its HR policy. We are a sustainable, family-friendly organisation which invests in its employees’ growth. We encourage diversity and attach great importance to an inclusive working environment and equal opportunities, regardless of gender identity, disability, race, ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation or age. We encourage people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse characteristics to apply.

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