PhD student Rehabilitation and exercise in type 2 diabetes – impact on the brain

About the function

The prevalence of type 2 diabetes (T2DM) is still increasing strongly, with an estimated current worldwide prevalence of approximately 12%. In addition to the known cardiovascular complications, T2DM also affects brain function, structure and metabolism. For example, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is common in approximately 45% of all T2DM patients and T2DM is causally related to the development of unspecified or vascular dementia. Recent studies reported significant adverse changes in the brains of T2DM patients, such as decreased regional gray matter volume, and altered intrinsic activity, mainly in the default mode network. In addition, there is evidence that brain neurometabolites change dramatically during T2DM development, suggesting disturbances in metabolism, neurotransmission, and lipid membrane metabolism. Therefore, T2DM patients are at high risk for significant brain complications. On the other hand, studies have shown that higher levels of physical activity (PA) are associated with better cognitive function in T2DM and that exercise intervention could have a positive effect on the brain and cognitive function in T2DM. PA is also known to be associated with larger brain volumes (less brain atrophy), particularly in brain areas vulnerable to dementia (hippocampus, temporal and frontal areas), and functional MRI shows greater task-relevant activity in brain areas that are recruited into executive functions and memory tasks. What remains to be determined, however, is which type of exercise would provide the greatest protection against the deterioration of brain structure and neurometabolites, even in healthy people, let alone T2DM. Some studies argue that exercise intensity matters, while others argue that program duration is critical, while the impact of exercise volume is unknown to date. Therefore, the main aim is to investigate the impact of volume versus intensity of six months of exercise training on brain structure and neurometabolites in patients with T2DM, aiming to provide the best protection against the development of pathological brain atrophy (MCI and dementia).

About us

Within the context of the further development of the research of the REVAL Rehabilitation Research of Hasselt University, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Sciences has a vacancy for a PhD fellow (100%) in brain imaging (MRI) in combination with offering an exercise training intervention in people with type 2 diabetes vacant. You will be part of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Sciences at Hasselt University. Thisfaculty organizes an education program that consists of a 3-year academic bachelor and a 2-year academic master program within Rehabilitation Sciences and Physiotherapy. This program has approximately 850 students. The faculty also provides education in the interuniversity master's program in Occupational Sciences. Within the faculty, REVAL ACADEMY organizes interdisciplinary refresher courses aimed at professionals in care and rehabilitation. The proposed research will be performed within the rehabilitation research group REVAL. REVAL is an interdisciplinary and translational research group conducting research in the fields of pediatric, neurological and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, biomechanics, health psychology, mental health and rehabilitation of internal disorders. Within the perspective of a "civic university", the RELAB platform facilitates the provision of evidence-based advice to persons with disabilities and professionals within the healthcare sector as well as to companies. This PhD is done in collaboration with (inter)national rehabilitation centers.

About you

  • You hold a Master's degree in (bio)medical sciences or rehabilitation sciences and physiotherapy (or equivalent). Final year students are also encouraged to apply. (or equivalent)
    Final-year students are (likewise) encouraged to apply.
  • A strong interest in medical imaging and analyzing this data is necessary.
  • You have achieved good academic results.
  • A strong interest in molecular and structural fundamental research is necessary.
  • A strong affinity with rehabilitation and scientific research is a plus.
  • Experience with patients is a plus.
  • Experience with programming languages (such as Matlab, Python, etc) is a plus.
  • You have insight into setting up, executing and analyzing experimental research designs.
  • You have strong problem-solving skills, are flexible, have the necessary organizational capacity and are stress resistant.
  • You have excellent communication skills and a good knowledge of Dutch and English, both orally and in writing.
  • You actively contribute to a positive working atmosphere where you make connections between different domains and people (practice assistants, doctoral students, postdoctoral researchers, professors).

Our offer

You will be appointed and paid as PhD student.
Position for 2 years. After positive evaluation one time extendable with 2 years. Positon at Hasselt University.

Apply for this position

The selection procedure consists of a preselection based on application file and an interview.
A presentation or assignment is a possibility.

Apply now
Apply up to 03.10.2022

Question about this vacancy?

For substantive questions, send an e-mail to or For questions about the selection procedure, please email

Prof. dr. Dominique HANSEN

Full professor

Prof. dr. Raf MEESEN