The beauty of working in science is that no two days are the same

Betül Aldemir Dikici - PhD Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering
Betül Aldemir Dikici
PhD student
PhD Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering
Betül won a scholarship from the Turkish Ministry of Education to undertake a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering in Sheffield under the supervision of Dr Frederik Claeyssens.

I graduated with a degree in Bioengineering, a multidisciplinary subject which provides opportunities to work in a variety of fields. The amazing organisation of the human body has always made me wonder and inspired me to work in the area of tissue engineering. My masters degree was on 3D printing of ceramic-based scaffolds for custom bone tissue engineering, which I really enjoyed, and I got familiar with various techniques throughout my research.

After this, I won a scholarship from the Turkish Ministry of Education for my PhD education on 'Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering', and I started a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at The University of Sheffield (TUoS) under the supervision of Dr Frederik Claeyssens.

My research is a perfect balance between tissue engineering and materials science, which I have always wanted to study. I found material science magical in many ways. Working in this area is like being an alchemist: it's a solid art for me, it's a creative process which requires imagination, technical skills, and consequently results in something amazing.

The overall driving force of my passion is curiosity. I would love to explore more and learn more. But at the same time, I can’t wait to share the knowledge and experience I gained throughout my education with my prospective students

Betül Aldemir Dikici

PhD Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering

I believe the discussion of, 'art for art’s sake' or 'art for society’s sake' can be adapted to science. Science is something selfish and something collective at the same time; it's really something to understand the past and to develop the future. It's the one and only way of providing answers to our intrinsic questions about the beginning of life. But at the same time, it seeks ways to create a future better than today.

The research problem of my research field - biomaterials and tissue engineering - is that while the lifespan of a human being is increasing, our tissues and organs are not ready for this. Aged tissues will inevitably fail at some point, so tissue engineering is developing approaches for the regeneration of tissues, with the guideline being the perfect design of nature.

What have you enjoyed most about your work so far?

The beauty of working in science is that no two days are the same. There's something evolving, and you're the closest witness to it. You face new challenges every day, which motivates you to push your own limits. Like all other creative processes, science is tough, but it's worth everything when you see that hopefully, your efforts could one day be a remedy to someone.

In the field of biomaterials and tissue engineering, this hope depends on whether cells like to live in the material you've developed. Thanks to great laboratory facilities, you can monitor them instantly, in a variety of ways. So, when I see that cells are happy, I am happy too!

Betül Dikici at MIT

You recently got the opportunity to travel to MIT to carry out some of your research - can you tell us what you did while you were there?

Throughout my PhD, I have worked on polymer synthesis and scaffold manufacturing techniques for tissue engineering applications. Critical requirements are the development of biodegradable material and fabrication of highly porous designs with interconnected porosity for tissue engineering scaffolds.

We have recently published the development and fabrication of that novel material (emulsion templated scaffolds based on tetra-methacrylate functionalised polycaprolactone) and its potential use in tissue engineering [1,2]. Having control over the manufacturing route allowed us to tailor the design for different applications.

At MIT, I was working with Professor Elazer Edelman (Edelman Laboratory/Harvard- MIT Health Sciences Technology) as a Visiting Student, to conduct a collaborative study from February to September 2019. Our research problem was the lack of in vitro 3D dynamic systems that researchers could use to assess angiogenic/antiangiogenic potential of the factors. Existing 2D in vitro assays do not fully represent the physiological conditions and in vivo methods have ethical concerns, batch to batch diversity and high cost.

The polymer synthesis, material development and manufacturing of the system were performed in TUOS, and in vitro 3D dynamic experiments were carried out at MIT. To be able to conduct that multi-disciplinary project, we combined the knowledge and expertise of five different labs; under the management of Dr Frederik Claeyssens (TUOS), Prof. Sheila MacNeil (TUOS), Dr Gwendolen Reilly (TUOS), Prof Elazer Edelman (MIT), Prof. Mercedes Ballcells (MIT).

We managed the develop the system we proposed, and results showed that just our in vitro 3D dynamic system alone was enough to investigate multiple parameters of angiogenesis, which you can monitor using multiple 2D assays.

We have recently presented this study in BioMedEng2019 in London and also just submitted a research article that we believe can be used by many other researchers.

You got this opportunity via a Battelle Scholarship - what did you have to do to secure this scholarship?

Dr Jeff Wadsworth (Battelle Fellowship programme) is an early-career fellowship exchange programme which provides support for research placements between the University of Sheffield and Universities/Research Organisations in the USA. Candidates are expected to submit a brief description of the research they intend to conduct.

We prepared a report containing our research proposal with a financial estimate and Gantt-chart and applied with the invitation letter provided by host Unversity-MIT. We are honoured to be awarded a Dr Jeff Wadsworth – Battelle Visiting Research Fellowship 2019 to undertake the collaborative study between The University of Sheffield and MIT.

This fruitful collaboration enabled us to combine the expertise of each institution, for a better understanding of more complex systems. This opportunity would not have been possible without the support of Dr Jeff Wadsworth - I really like and understand better what Dr Wadsworth, an alumnus of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield, said at the annual Hatfield Memorial Lecture: “the best gift you can give is an education”. Thanks for that precious gift.

What are your ambitions for the next few years?

After completing my doctoral studies, I plan to continue my academic career in my home country of Turkey. My PhD education was supported by my university in Turkey, the Izmir Institute of Technology, which is one of the most distinguished universities in Turkey.

The overall driving force of my passion is curiosity. I would love to explore more and learn more. But at the same time, I can’t wait to share the knowledge and experience I gained throughout my education with my prospective students. Regardless of our nationality, we're all looking for answers for similar questions and trying to heal similar wounds. The more we are, the better we will be.

Can you tell us a bit about what you like about being part of the University of Sheffield, and living in the city?

In the concept of our scholarship, we were allowed to apply for one of the top 500 Universities in more than 10 countries. One of my priorities was being in a country whose native language is English. Now, it is a pleasure for me to hear the poetic linguistics of British English every day.

Sheffield is my second home. “She” is a mother who serves up a peaceful lifestyle for her family, making their lives easier. I am grateful to be a member of this family.

I especially appreciate TUoS for two main reasons: management and outstanding facilities. I love the systematic operating system of TUoS. Every member of staff from every unit is good at their job, and they really help to solve your problems. This friendly approach and non-chaotic flow helps you to be more productive and encourages you to be good at your job too. In addition, a wide range of accessible facilities and qualified academic staff are always there for you to exploit.

Selected papers:

1. Aldemir Dikici, B.; Sherborne, C.; Reilly, G.C.; Claeyssens, F. Emulsion templated scaffolds manufactured from photocurable polycaprolactone. Polymer (Guildf). 2019.
2. Aldemir Dikici, B.; Dikici, S.; Reilly, G.C.; MacNeil, S.; Claeyssens, F. A Novel Bilayer Polycaprolactone Membrane for Guided Bone Regeneration: Combining Electrospinning and Emulsion Templating. Materials (Basel). 2019, 12, 2643.

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