Education and academic career
Jan A. Staessen (JAS; 23 June 1949) obtained his medical degree (19671974) and did his residency in internal medicine and cardiology (1974-1979) at the University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium. He completed his PhD on the epidemiology of hypertension on 1 June 1983. Since 1 October 1984, JAS is on the faculty of the University of Leuven, and since 1 October 2007, he is part-time professor in genetic epidemiology at Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.
Initially to support the Systolic Hypertension in Europe Trial, in 1989, JAS started the Studies Coordinating Centre (SCC), currently located at the Laboratory of Hypertension, Division of Hypertension and Cardiovascular Rehabilitation, Department of Cardiovascular Diseases at the University of Leuven. The centre’s mission is to design and conduct randomised clinical trials and large-scale epidemiological surveys and to provide support to such studies organised by other investigators.
Randomised clinical trials
JAS obtained funding for and was the principal investigator of several influential clinical trials, published in top-ranking journals. The Systolic Hypertension in Europe Trial (Syst-Eur) enrolled 4695 patients across 198 centres in 23 European countries and proved that active antihypertensive treatment improves the cardiovascular prognosis of older patients with isolated systolic hypertension. Two other trials set up and coordinated by JAS addressed the question whether adjusting antihypertensive treatment based on the ambulatory blood pressure or the self-measured blood pressure, compared with the office blood pressure, led to better blood pressure control and the avoidance of unnecessary antihypertensive drug treatment and cost savings. The Ambulatory blood Pressure monitoring and Treatment of Hypertension trial (APTH), and the Treatment of hypertension based on Home or Office blood Pressure trial (THOP) were the first studies addressing these specific research questions. JAS chairs the Data Safety and Monitoring Board of several clinical trials, including the ongoing Randomised Olmesartan and Diabetes Microalbuminuria Prevention Study (ROADMAP) and the Hypertension in the very Elderly trial (HYVET), recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. JAS was the scientific coordinator of the Ouabain and Adducin for Specific Intervention on Sodium in HyperTension trial (OASIS-HT), due to report in 2008. OASIS-HT tested the blood pressure lowering activity of the ouabain-analogue rostafuroxin, the lead compound of a new class of antihypertensive drugs. It is the first phase II dose-finding study in hypertension based on a pharmacogenomic hypothesis.
Epidemiological studies and European networks
In 1985, JAS started a prospective population study, which is presently known as the FLEMish study on Environment, Genes and Health Outcomes (FLEMENGHO). Recruitment and follow-up are still ongoing. JAS designed and coordinated the European Study on Genes in Hypertension (IC15-CT98-0329-EPOGH, 1998-2002). The European Council for Cardiovascular Research and the European Society of Hypertension endorse FLEMENGHO and EPOGH. Under JAS’ leadership, collaboration between the EPOGH centres continued beyond the formal end of the project in 2002. JAS is on the Steering Committee of the European Network of Excellence InGenious Hypercare (IGHC; LSHM-CT-2006-037093, 20062010) and the large-scale European research project HyperGenes (HGN; HEALTH-F4-2007-201550, 20072011). In IGHC, JAS is the leader of the Joint Research Package on Renal Sodium Handling in Relation to Hypertension and Heart Failure, which involves 14 research groups, including the former EPOGH consortium. In HGN, JAS leads 7 groups, contributing the population-based phenotypes to the research consortium.
Groundbreaking studies in environmental medicine
Since 1983, JAS initiated a line of research in environmental medicine, because of the hypothesis that exposure to heavy metals might play a role in the pathogenesis of hypertension in the population at large. JAS also researched whether measurement of biomarkers of exposure and effect in adolescents might be a noel way to monitor recent exposure to common environmental pollutants, such as heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin-like substances, volatile organic compounds, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Diagnosis of hypertension and risk stratification based on automated blood pressure measurement
Conventional measurement of blood pressure in a medical environment is error-prone and often inaccurate. In the 1990s, in collaboration with an international consortium of researchers, JAS constructed the International Database on Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitoring and the International Database on the Self-Measured Blood Pressure at home. The objective was to define diagnostic thresholds for use in clinical practice, based on the distribution of these automated blood pressure readings in hypertensive patients and in the general population. Recently, in collaboration with 9 other research groups from Europe, Japan, China and Uruguay, JAS set up the International Database on the Ambulatory blood pressure in relation to Cardiovascular Outcome (IDACO) to refine risk stratification based on this technique of blood pressure measurement.
Role in the international scientific community, awards, and publications
JAS has been on the Scientific Council of the European Society of Hypertension (1993-1997). JAS presently chairs the Working Group on Blood Pressure Measurement of the European Society of Hypertension. He is an editorial advisor to the Lancet. He is associate editor of Hypertension, the leading journal in the field of hypertension and blood pressure regulation, and the official journal of the Council of High Blood Research of the American Heart Association. He is also associate editor of the European Heart Journal, the official publication of the European Society of Hypertension. JAS published numerous editorial commentaries in top journals, such as The Lancet, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Circulation, Hypertension, and the European Heart Journal. JAS is author or co-author of 675 publications listed at the PubMed website (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=pubmed&cmd=search&term=staessen and http://www.staessen.net/publications.html).
In recognition of his work, JAS received several awards, including most recently the 2003 AstraZeneca Award of the Belgian Hypertension Committee, the 2004 AstraZeneca Award of the International Society of Hypertension, and the 2006 Willem Birkenhäger Award of the Dutch Society of Hypertension. JAS is an honorary member of the Polish Society of Hypertension (1998) and the Spanish Society of Hypertension (2005). His citation index, excluding own citations, is currently 10,575. His H-index is 60.