In 2019, the LIVR team consists of 4 senior scientists and postdocs, 5 PhD students, 5 administrative/technical staff members and 1 master student Biomedical Sciences.
The LIVR team investigates:
- the mechanisms of liver fibrosis development and resolution
- the identification of hepatic stellate cell-specific biomarkers for liver fibrosis staging
- the generation of in vitro liver disease models
- the role for liver progenitor cells during liver regeneration
Located at the Brussels Health Campus of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), LIVR is part of the research cluster "Liver, Cell Biology and Toxicology", together with the team of IVTD (In Vitro Toxicology and Dermato-Cosmetology).
The research teams of Liver Cell Biology (VUB) and Hepatology (Ghent University) established in 2011 the "Translational Liver Cell Biology Alliance" to perform studies on the pathophysiology of the liver : by using in vivo and in vitro models of liver fibrosis, signals and processes that matter during liver fibrosis/cirrhosis development are investigated.
The roots of the LIVR lab 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 as Doctor in Pharmaceutical Sciences with greatest distinction. In 1980 he was appointed research assistant at the Department for Cell Biology and Histology (CYTO) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) (head: Prof. E. Wisse). He started to focus his research on liver fibrosis, and as head of a small research team within the CYTO lab, he contributed in 1984 to the first paper on isolation, purification and culturing of hepatic stellate cells .
Albert Geerts climbed the ranks at VUB, 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 : Pieter De Bleser (1996), Marc Hautekeete (1997) and Toshiro Niki (1999). The staff had gradually grown out to a maximum of 18 members in the late 1990s. In 1997, Hendrik Reynaert, MD (Gastroenterology unit of UZ Brussel) joined the group, and helped to raise research fundings for the team through new contracts with partners of the pharmaceutical 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 kept a 10% position (with limited teaching activities) and a small research team of 6 members at VUB with 4 PhD theses to be defended in the coming years: Karine Hellemans (2002), Krista Rombouts (2003), Hendrik Reynaert (2004) and Anne Durnez (2006-KULeuven/VUB).
At the end of 2002, he returned to Belgium to work full time at VUB and immediately extended his research activities. Later on, he became responsible for teaching "Cytology", "Introduction to Bioinformatics", "Tissue Biology and Engineering" and "Cell Biology". He continued to work on the cytoskeleton of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs)  and on the influence of somastotatin on HSCs . New projects started 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, he became partner in the European research network HEPADIP (EU-FP6 programme, 2006-2010). Later on, more researchers joined the team : 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). Postdoc 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 and continued to support the team. At the start of 2009, due to the intense fundraising and recruitment strategy, CYTO 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 projects.
On 24th January 2009, Prof. Geerts passed away unexpectedly. Prof. Alain Dupont, dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of VUB, became head ad interim of CYTO and Prof. Leo van Grunsven became lecturer for the 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 (journal of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases) (1997-2002) and of the Editorial Board of JOURNAL OF HEPATOLOGY (journal 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 PhD-students in the lab. In 2009, CYTO was reformed as LIVR (Liver Cell Biology Lab) and Leo van Grunsven became head of the team. LIVR initially continued to work on 3 topics: liver fibrosis, liver stem cells and liver cytoskeleton/portal hypertension. In October 2009, Leo van Grunsven was appointed as full time research professor.
An IWT-SBO grant application, HEPSTEM (2009-2013) with Prof. C. Verfaillie, Stem Cell Institute, KULeuven (coordinator) and Albert Geerts (VUB partner), was approved in summer 2009 (6 months after he'd passed away). It was the last succesful grant application by Albert Geerts.
1.de Leeuw, A.M., et al., Hepatology, 1984(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).