Biomechanics in health and disease:
advanced physical tools for innovative early diagnosis
H2020-MSCA-ITN-2018 n. 812772

ESR1. Hatice Holuigue


Short biographic note

Passionate by sciences since my young age, I hold a bachelor in both chemistry and physics, as well as an Erasmus Mundus master’s degree in “Advanced Spectroscopy for Chemistry” (ASC).

During my studies I had the chance to travel and learn from others; firstly by being an exchange student in the University of Moncton, Canada, secondly with an Erasmus exchange in Jagellonian University of Kraków, Poland, where I completed my master’s degree related with forensic chemistry.

I am currently working with enthusiasm on the Phys2BioMed project as the ESR1 in the University of Milan, in order to investigate the influence of the microenvironment of healthy and tumoral cells.





Project Title

The influence of the microenvironment of healthy and tumoural cells.

Start date

1st August 2019




To investigate the response of healthy and tumoural cells to controlled chemical-physical stimuli provided by the microenvironment; to develop reliable and standardised approaches for the nano-mechanical characterisation by Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) of cells, ExtraCellular Matrices (ECMs) and other soft samples.

Expected Results

The ESR will develop suitable platforms based on morphologically and chemically patterned substrates to provide controlled stimuli to healthy and cancerous cells. Suitably patterned substrates for cell culture using nanostructured/nanocomposite materials with controlled morphology and elasticity mimicking natural ECMs will be used to provide mechanical stimuli to cells, triggering mechanotransduction processes. The ESR will characterise the mechanical phenotype of cells in different stimulation conditions by means of AFM coupled to optical techniques, and commercial nano-indentation techniques. The ESR’s project will have a strong focus on methodological aspects of the research, including calibration of probes, modelling and data analysis, and contribute to the network-wide standardisation effort. ESR will be involved actively on several network tasks in training, dissemination and communication, and will support coordination activities of the PI.

Planned secondments 

Optics11 (The Netherlands), mastering commercial nano-indenter Piuma; University of Bremen (Germany), optimising calibration of AFM probes and data analysis; Vmicro SAS (France), devel

opment of custom probes and interferometric calibration; INSERM (France), study of mechanical response of cells in confined/patterned geometries




Question 1: What is your background?

Hatice: I am a strange case because I did a double bachelor’s in chemistry and physics, so I have a background in both. I did my master in Advanced spectroscopy for chemistry, so I would call myself a spectroscopist with a physical and chemical background.


Question 2: And regarding any international experience?

Hatice: In my second year of bachelor’s I went to Canada to do a semester (University of Moncton). My master was under the Erasmus Mundus programme, so I did the first year in France, Lille and the second one I spent it in Jagellonian University in Krakow, Poland in a forensic chemistry lab.


Question 3:Can you describe your current PhD project in one sentence?

Hatice: I would say “The effect of the microenvironment in health and disease of cells”.


Question 4: What is the biggest difficulty you are facing within your research right now? (besides the current world health situation).

Hatice: The main difficulty is that I am working with cells, which I’ve never done my entire life. I am the type of person who likes to understand deeply how things work, so I am trying to understand deeply how cell culture works. So, that’s the most difficult part because I am not a biologist.


Question 5: Why did you choose a research path?

Hatice: Because the opportunity came, and I wanted to try research before going into the private sector and I had loved my research experience in Poland the previous year. And the topic was just perfect.


Question 6: What’s the most helpful way for you to get feedback on work you’ve done?

Hatice: Well I had to work on myself to not take things as “bad criticism” and only “helpful criticism” and also to tell myself that I’m not the best and I don’t know everything of course, so I am going to get things wrong. In this line of work, you have to put your faith in people: it takes a lot of people to get things right, so I appreciate all the opinions.


Question 7: What 3 traits do you believe are most useful to succeed in this occupation?

Hatice: I would say sociability because you learn a lot from others, and you have to talk to people. Determination, because if you don’t set yourself goals you will never get anywhere. And motivation also, because we all know these 3 years are going to be long and we have to keep ourselves motivated.


Question 8: What’s one thing you love about Milan and one thing you don’t like?

Hatice: What I like about Milan is that we are surrounded by amazing cities where you can go very easily: you can go to Genova, Bologna to Venice really quickly and to visit many places. What I don’t like is that it is too big; there are too many tourists. When you want to wander around the city there are just too many tourists everywhere, which gets to be annoying when it’s Sunday afternoon and you just want to relax (laughs).


Question 9: What’s the best and worst part about academia?

Hatice: (laughs) Do I have to say it? (laughs) I like academia because I think you have more contact with people as opposed of when you work in the private sector. I feel like you have more freedom to pursue whatever you like. Regarding the negative points, I would have to say monetary reasons. We have to admit that there is a lack of funds in public research in general. Sometimes, that can stop you from doing what you want or need to do. You would usually have to write all these grant proposals asking for funds, whereas in private this is usually not the case.


Question 10: What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone?

Hatice: I am a black belt in Judo. I’ve been doing Judo since I was 4. I stopped last year because I was in Poland and I want to restart it next year when I’ll understand Italian fully. I am a black belt and as Laura would say (ESR12): “I am a weapon”. (laughs)