Initially trained in clinical chemistry and hematology at the University of Applied Science, Prof. Leon Schurgers obtained his PhD at the Department of Biochemistry within CARIM on the role of vitamin K1 and K2 on bone metabolism and cardiovascular disease. He worked as post-doc on a Dutch Heart Foundation grant on the role of matrix Gla-protein synthesized by vascular smooth muscle cell and calcification in collaboration with the group of Prof. Catherine Shanahan (Cambridge, UK).
In 2009, he was appointed on a tenured position at the Department of Biochemistry. After entering the Toptalent programme (Maastricht UMC+) in 2016, he was appointed as Professor of Biochemistry of Vascular Calcification in 2017. He is vice-chair of the department of Biochemistry. Since 2021, he chairs the stem cell research facility of the University of Maastricht (SCRUM).
The focus of his current work is elucidating the molecular mechanisms by which vascular remodelling is initiated and propagated. Key cellular events include phenotypic switching of vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs) and the role of oxidative stress, extracellular vesicles and calcification. In this, he collaborates closely with the Cardiothoracic Surgery and Vascular Surgery departments of the Heart and Vessel Center (HVC) of the Maastricht University Medical Center. Patient derived primary SMCs are isolated from vascular tissue and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) are generated from patient derived peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). These iPSCs are used to differentiate into patient specific cardiovascular cells (i.e., cardiomyocytes, smooth muscle cells, endothelial cells and fibroblasts) to study cardiovascular disease.
The underlying causes of SMC phenotypic switching are insufficient to understand the pathogenesis of vascular ageing and calcification at a level that allows development of novel diagnostic tools and therapeutic strategies. In his project line, the Schurgers’ group aim to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of vitamin K-metabolism in health and vascular disease. Importantly, this work will help to understand the paradoxal observation that patients with low vitamin K-status during oral anticoagulant treatment develop enhanced vascular calcification and our results might provide new insights in prognostic and preventive measures to combat vascular ageing.
Professor Schurgers is Chairman of the steering scientific board on the world-wide quality assurance scheme for vitamin K detection and member of the scientific advisory boards of the Dutch Thrombosis Society.