R&D Institutions

Resultado da avaliação 2007 na área de Ciências da Saúde

Unidade de I&D

Instituto de Investigação em Ciências da Vida e Saúde [HESC-Norte-Braga-652] visitada em 01/02/2008

Classificação: Excellent

Comentários do painel de avaliação
Sobre a unidade
The whole Unit forms a comprehensive collection of interlocked research groups in a broad field of the Life Sciences (ICVS) encompassing different research areas: Development and Neoplasia (group 652 – 2905), Microbiology and Infection (group 652 – 2922) and Neurosciences group (652 – 2904); these are the groups that are active in the period beyond 2007. Considering that it was not practical to set up one single Panel with experts in all these fields it was decided to carry out the evaluation of this Unit by two panels, one specialized on “Neurosciences” and the other on “Molecular Genetics, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Experimental Pathology, Development and Oncology”.
Nonetheless we should emphasize that the Coordinators of the Unit, and of the three groups, pursue an active strategy of strengthening the links between the 3 groups, with respect to scientific, technical and teaching aspects. This commendable effort was recognized by the 2 Panels that visited the Unit and it was evaluated very positively.

The evaluation Panels were impressed with the overall achievements of a relatively new research unit. There was a clear overarching research strategy for the unit as a whole, which appeared to have developed through consensus of the individual group leaders. While recognizing that this approach has been successful in the start up phase of a new unit, the Panels felt that the unit should develop clearly defined mechanisms for determining the overall scientific direction as the group moves forward, with greater transparency over definitions of senior and junior group leaders and their role in unit strategy development. The leadership needs to consider how research focus and direction are to be taken forward, namely by having a more structured definition of groups (what is a PI, who is a PI and how will a PI be selected and assessed).

The Panel that evaluated the research activities of the two groups “Development and Neoplasia” and “Microbiology and Infection” reports that these activities were uniformly high with some investigators achieving excellence in their field. Interaction between investigators both within and between groups seemed to be productive. The panel identified some limitations in the more clinically oriented projects but recognised the inherent difficulties of collaborating with clinical colleagues and noted that attempts to improve these collaborations were ongoing. In the long term, the integration of clinical and basic science teaching and training described below should make clinical translational research more fruitful.

The group ”Development and Neoplasia” (652 – 2905) overall is very good but this is uneven. The outstanding PI is Isabel Palmeirim, whereas other groups are not as well developed. The work on somatic and germline cancer genetics will require significant effort in sample collection to be able to be competitive. This will require focus (one or at most two tumour sites) and long term investment. Cancer biomarkers research is very competitive and the group needs to be very careful in deciding how to go forward.

The group “Microbiology and Infection” (652 – 2922) has made steady progress in elucidating the pathogenesis of microbial disease in model systems, but given the large size of the workforce the output is moderate. The group has a very clear research strategy, and so the output can be improved.

Both Panels noted the integration of academic research in the clinical training and the positive interactions between clinical and basic science students. The development of a formal MD/PhD programme in collaboration with international institutions (Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and Columbia in New York) of a very high calibre is to be commended. This is an important strategic measure to promote that talented MDs may actively participate in medically oriented scientific research. Of course these activities are carried by the whole staff of the Unit. As founders of the ICVS the faculty has been outstanding in their innovative approach to integrate research and teaching. This is a distinctive feature of Braga that should be complimented and copied by others.
The quality of teaching and training was high (or even outstanding).

The Panel that evaluated the Neurosciences group noted that in the period of this evaluation there was a reorganization of the Neurosciences research within the Unit, and that the Unit brought together four separate research groups interested in various aspects of the neurosciences in relation to neurological diseases, through various steps of collaboration and new initiatives. The Neurosciences group has grown considerably in this period and the productivity has increased considerably.
In this way the so called “Neurosciences Research Domain” was established, that has as backbone the “integrative neuroscience of behaviour”. It comprises three main lines of research: 1. neurodevelopment; 2. neurodegeneration and repair; 3. neuroimmunology.
The research topics chosen in the Neurosciences group are very relevant both scientifically and with respect to health and societal impact. The main project with respect to “neurodevelopment” is the investigation of the effects of stressors (e.g. maternal separation) and/or corticosterone administration during the perinatal period on the brain and development. The fact that the group investigates these effects simultaneously at different levels (behavioral tests; brain structural studies, biochemical (immunologic) assays) is an excellent strategy. This is also being applied to other interesting projects. The group clear defined what they consider “core” and “satellite” projects, what is very appropriate. The group’s research has resulted in a number of very good publications in journals of high and moderate impact in the field. The track record of the PI Nuno de Sousa is very good. The bibliometric analysis of the past performance of Nuno de Sousa is very positive. His presentation of the research projects was outstanding

We note that although the group is being successful in its research lines it should keep in mind the need to avoid spreading its activities too wide with the danger of making its contributions too thin. It is important for the group to keep a critical attitude in this respect and to identify the most promising research lines and to dare choosing priorities. Thus concentration on the most relevant projects should be the strategy to be followed.

In general, the site-visits of both Panels gave an optimal opportunity to get a more vivid idea on how the Unit is functioning and how it is housed in the new building. The latter gives outstanding opportunities to establish optimal work conditions and to promote interdisciplinary interactions within the whole Unit.

One difficulty that should be signalled is that the animal facilities are not yet at the desired level. It is recommended that the University and FCT should do the utmost to solve this problem as soon as possible so that this lack of animal facility will not hinder the further development of the Unit.

The Unit appears to be very well managed, with a young staff at the side of the Head of the Unit (Professor Cecilia Leão). The concept to study (patho)biology from molecule to man is enhanced by the presence of a human genetics department, which can recruit, genotype and phenotype patients, which are of interest to biological and clinical research questions.

In summary, this is a most promising research Unit, full of ideas and good possibilities, worthy collaborations and very good group leaders. The ratio of PhD´s compared to non PhD´s should be increased further.
As stated above a potential threat is that the research program can become too broad. Therefore care should be taken to keep the research focussed on the most promising and significant scientific topics. As a whole the Unit has the potential of being classified as Excellent if it develops further a critical self-evaluation and makes the appropriate choices and sets the necessary priorities.
Sobre os grupos de investigação
DEVELOPMENT AND NEOPLASIA - 2003-2006 [RG-HESC-Norte-Braga-652-762]
DEVELOPMENT AND NEOPLASIA - 2007-2010 [RG-HESC-Norte-Braga-652-2905]
INFECTIOUS DISEASES - 2003-2006 [RG-HESC-Norte-Braga-652-681]
MICROBIOLOGY AND INFECTION - 2007-2010 [RG-HESC-Norte-Braga-652-2922]
NEUROSCIENCES - 2003-2006 [RG-HESC-Norte-Braga-652-682]
NEUROSCIENCES - 2007-2010 [RG-HESC-Norte-Braga-652-2904]