CYTO-VUB : short history of the research team

Bert Geerts (29/09/1952 - 24/01/2009)


1980s -1990s

The roots of our team go back to the 1980s.

Albert Geerts (29/09/1952-24/01/2009) studied Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Universities of Antwerp (Bachelor) and Ghent (Master and PhD). He graduated in 1981 as Doctor in Pharmaceutical Sciences with greatest distinction. On July 1th 1980 he was appointed research assistant at the Laboratory for Cell Biology and Histology of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Prof. Dr. E. Wisse). During the 1980s, he focused his research interest on liver fibrosis as leader of a small research team in the lab of Prof. E. Wisse. In 1984, he contributed to the first paper on isolation, purification and culturing of hepatic stellate cells [1].

Albert Geerts climbed the ranks at V.U.B., from research assistant to professor. In 1995, the team CYTO-GEERTS, was an independent group within the dept. of Cell Biology and Histology, with own funding, staff and accomodation. The team had developed a strong background in fundamental liver research and became internationally recognized for its work on hepatic stellate cells [1-5]. The work in 1990s resulted in 3 PhD's : P. De Bleser (1996), M. Hautekeete (1997) and T. Niki (1999). The staff had gradually grown out to a maximum of 18 members in the late 1990s. In 1997, Hendrik Reynaert, MD (Gastroenterology dept. of UZ Brussel) had joined the group, and helped to raise research fundings for the team through new contracts with partners of the phamaceutical industry.


In 2000, Albert Geerts took up a new challenge with accepting the Chair of Medical Cell Biology at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK (01/10/2000- 30/09/2002) and becoming full professor. He also kept a 10% position (with limited teaching activities) and a small research team (6 members) at V.U.B. with 3 PhD theses to be defended in the coming years: Karine Hellemans (2002), Krista Romnouts (2003) and Hendrik Reynaert (2004).

At the end of 2002, he returned full time to V.U.B. and immediately extended his research activities. Later on, he became responsible for teaching "Cytology", "Introduction to Bioinformatics", "Tissue Biology and Engineering" and "Cell Biology". His main research objective was to continue the work on the cytoskeleton of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) [6] and on the influence of somastotatin on HSCs [7], start entirely new subjects on the role of HSCs in the pathogenesis of NAFLD. In 2003, when Prof. E. Wisse was given emeritus status, Albert Geerts became Head of the Department for Cell Biology.

In 2005, CYTO became partner in the new european research network HEPADIP (EU-FP6 program, 2006-2010). Later on, Albert Geerts wrote several grant applications to bring more people to the lab and to initiate new projects : Dr. Leo van Grunsven was attracted as a postdoc to work on the transcriptional regulation of HSC activation (GOA 2006-2010). In 2007, Prof. Geerts became coordinator of the IAP VI network HEPRO: "Hepatic progenitor cells under experimental conditions and in human liver disease" (2007-2011). Postoc Laurent Dollé was attracted and a small stem cell group was formed when the complementary project BRUSTEM (funding by ISRIB, Brussels Region) was approved for 2008-2011. In the meantime, Hendrik Reynaert was appointed as Professor of Physiology. At the start of 2009, due to the intense fundraising and recruitment strategy, CYTO-VUB consisted of 20 members: 3 professors (Geerts/Reynaert/van Grunsven), 2 Postdocs, 11 PhD students, 3 technicians and 1 master student, working on 8 different subjects.

On 24th January 2009, Prof. Geerts has passed away. Evidently this had many consequences with respect to the organization of the lab. Prof. Alain Dupont, dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of VUB, became interim head of CYTO and Prof. Leo van Grunsven replaced Prof. Geerts as lecturer for Bioinformatics and part of the Cytology course.

Prof. Geerts published 115 articles in peer reviewed international journals, has been cited over 3000 times, has been guest-editor of two volumes of Anatomical Record, and has published 61 articles in books, conference proceedings and national journals. He was member of the Editorial Board of HEPATOLOGY (of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases) for 2 terms of 3 years (1997-2002). He was also member of the Editorial Board of JOURNAL OF HEPATOLOGY (of the European Association for the Study of the Liver).

Leo van Grunsven and Hendrik Reynaert became promotors/co-promoters of the ongoing projects and of PhD-students in the lab. The CYTO team was reformed as LIVR (Liver Cell Biology Lab) and continued to work on 3 themes, as described in Topics. A healthy ratio of Post-Docs and PhD students was envisaged to ensure proper training of the students. Since October 2009, Leo van Grunsven was appointed as full time research professor.

The partnership of Albert Geerts in HEPSTEM, an IWT-SBO grant application (coordinator: Prof. C. Verfaillie, Stem Cell Institute, KULeuven), was approved in summer 2009 (6 months after he'd passed away). It was the last grant obtained by Albert Geerts. Leo van Grunsven and postdoc Laurent Dollé have been conducting this project, until it ended on31 October 2013.

References Leeuw, A.M., et al., Hepatology, 198, 4(3): p. 392-403. 2.Geerts, A., et al., J Hepatol, 1989. 9(1): p. 59-68. 3.Geerts, A., et al., Hepatology, 1998. 27(2): p. 590-8. 4.Geerts, A., L. Bouwens, and E. Wisse, 1990. 14(3): p. 247-56.5.Geerts, A., Semin Liver Dis, 2001. 21(3): p. 311-35. 6. Geerts, A. et al., Hepatology 33 (1), 177-188 (2001). 7. Reynaert, H. et al.,. Gastroenterology 121 (4), 915-930 (2001).


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