FCT

R&D Institutions

Resultado da avaliação 2007 na área de Ciências da Saúde

Unidade de I&D

Unidade Multidisciplinar de Investigação Biomédica - UMIB [HESC-Norte-Porto-215] visitada em 02/02/2008

Classificação: Good

Comentários do painel de avaliação
Sobre a unidade
The Research Unit Porto-215 consists of a relatively large number of groups that have little programmatic common ground but are associated since they are all part of the “Instituto de Ciências Bio-Médicas Abel Salazar”. One may wonder whether such a diverse assembly of research groups should be considered a FCT Unit.
Because of this diversity it was decided to realize the evaluation by two Panels (with one member common to both): one Panel assessed the research done in the “Anatomy” and “Neurosciences” groups; the other Panel evaluated the research of the groups on “Biology and genetics of reproduction”, “infectious diseases”, “ImmunoGenetics, “Inflammation and Autoimmunity”, “Nephrology, Dialysis and Transplantation”, “Blood, lymphopoietic and haematopoietic disorders”and “Clinical research”.
There is a need to establish an effective mentoring system for young researchers and PhD students. This applies to the whole Research Unit.
It is difficult to give a general score to the whole Unit since the diversity of themes and styles is very large. As written above it is not clear why this assembly of groups may form a real Unit. It reflects the enormous variability of a Faculty of Medicine to which also elements of other disciplines have been added. A reorganization of the Unit based on the existence of different Clusters of groups with related research objectives is advisable. In the process of reorganization the Unit should carefully make a selection of the strong groups and those that have the potential of becoming stronger, in order to form groups with sufficient critical mass and clear research themes that may group together those people who can dedicate an appreciable amount of time to research.
Sobre os grupos de investigação
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Anatomy I: Structural Pathology [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-215-2465]
The comments regard both groups Anatomy I (215-2465: Structural pathology) and II (215-2642: Experimental Medicine) since both have the same PI (Artur Águas) and a very similar composition with respect to the PhD researchers; in addition the latter started only in 2007 while the report of the former dates from 2003. Furthermore during the site visit the presentation of the two groups was combined.
The Lab has a long tradition of classic anatomical research. This group works in research fields that nowadays have not a strong scientific impact. The group studies the influence of environmental (e.g. industrial sound); infectious (Calicivirus) and toxic factors on several organs and cell types (respiratory, endocrine, immune cells, kidney). The group indicates three major areas for future research (gastro-intestinal hormones in bariatric surgery, myelomeningocele, myocardial revascularization). Among all these topics a main scientific focus is not evident. Nonetheless the group has a steady productivity of papers in peer-reviewed journals. The last few years the productivity has gone up. However, publications are in journals with a relatively low or modest impact and a bibliometric analysis shows that citations of the group’s papers appear to be low (quite some papers have not received any citations), although the PI has a moderate bibliometric performance. International collaborations are not well developed. The Panel is happy to note that the group, however, has been active in promoting PhD theses (4 in the assessed period).
Basic equipment appears to be adequate for the research being carried out, but modernization is needed. In the previous period there has been a steady flow of funds from the FCT.
The plans for the period 2007-2010 appear to be a continuation of the research lines currently being followed. It was indeed indicated that common aspects within the Anatomy groups are related to the fact that most of the projects have a clinical background and that morphological methods (light and electron microscopic) are shared. The Panel is concerned that with the rather wide range of research topics and the limited amount of time that the small number of researchers may be able to dedicate to lab work, it will be very difficult to attain the desired critical mass in order to make significant scientific contributions.
According to the Panel the group has to establish clear priorities and choose innovative themes that may lead to results of impact both scientifically and clinically. In this context collaborative studies with relevant and scientifically active clinical groups would be welcome. The intention of carrying out translational research in collaboration with clinicians/researchers of the adjacent hospital (Santo António), and others, should be a good strategy, on condition that active and operational collaborative studies may be realized. The establishment of an External Review Board, with outstanding foreign scientists, could be important to help the group (and the whole Unit) in this endeavour.
The number of PhD´s should be increased compared to non PhD´s.
In summary, it can be foreseen that this group will probably proceed at the same (moderate) scientific level as before, unless they choose more circumscribed research objectives with a stronger potential impact in the scientific community.
The site visit to this group, and in fact the entire research unit with its old-fashioned housing, raised main concerns about the future development of these groups if a modernization of the laboratory facilities remains postponed for a future date.
Anatomy II: Experimental Medicine [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-215-2642]
The comments regard both groups Anatomy I (215-2465: Structural pathology) and II (215-2642: Experimental Medicine) since both have the same PI (Artur Águas) and a very similar composition with respect to the PhD researchers; in addition the latter started only in 2007 while the report of the former dates from 2003. Furthermore during the site visit the presentation of the two groups was combined.
The Lab has a long tradition of classic anatomical research. This group works in research fields that nowadays have not a strong scientific impact. The group studies the influence of environmental (e.g. industrial sound); infectious (Calicivirus) and toxic factors on several organs and cell types (respiratory, endocrine, immune cells, kidney). The group indicates three major areas for future research (gastro-intestinal hormones in bariatric surgery, myelomeningocele, myocardial revascularization). Among all these topics a main scientific focus is not evident. Nonetheless the group has a steady productivity of papers in peer-reviewed journals. The last few years the productivity has gone up. However, publications are in journals with a relatively low or modest impact and a bibliometric analysis shows that citations of the group’s papers appear to be low (quite some papers have not received any citations), although the PI has a moderate bibliometric performance. International collaborations are not well developed. The Panel is happy to note that the group, however, has been active in promoting PhD theses (4 in the assessed period).
Basic equipment appears to be adequate for the research being carried out, but modernization is needed. In the previous period there has been a steady flow of funds from the FCT.
The plans for the period 2007-2010 appear to be a continuation of the research lines currently being followed. It was indeed indicated that common aspects within the Anatomy groups are related to the fact that most of the projects have a clinical background and that morphological methods (light and electron microscopic) are shared. The Panel is concerned that with the rather wide range of research topics and the limited amount of time that the small number of researchers may be able to dedicate to lab work, it will be very difficult to attain the desired critical mass in order to make significant scientific contributions.
According to the Panel the group has to establish clear priorities and choose innovative themes that may lead to results of impact both scientifically and clinically. In this context collaborative studies with relevant and scientifically active clinical groups would be welcome. The intention of carrying out translational research in collaboration with clinicians/researchers of the adjacent hospital (Santo António), and others, should be a good strategy, on condition that active and operational collaborative studies may be realized. The establishment of an External Review Board, with outstanding foreign scientists, could be important to help the group (and the whole Unit) in this endeavour.
The number of PhD´s should be increased compared to non PhD´s.
In summary, it can be foreseen that this group will probably proceed at the same (moderate) scientific level as before, unless they choose more circumscribed research objectives with a stronger potential impact in the scientific community.
The site visit to this group, and in fact the entire research unit with its old-fashioned housing, raised main concerns about the future development of these groups if a modernization of the laboratory facilities remains postponed for a future date.
Biology and Genetics of Reproduction [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-215-2408]
This is a powerful and focussed basic science group. The group has made interesting contributions to the field of reproductive physiology particularly in the process of gametogenesis, from the genetic molecular level to human assisted reproductive technologies with potential clinical implications. Further the group is involved in the development of new methods of cryopreservation of human embryonic stem cells.
The group is going though considerable change due to the acquisition of a number of new staff. It has a good publication record in international journals, although most articles are in journal of moderate impact, and a significant track record in attracting international funding.
Male infertility is a major interest and a considerable body of excellent work has been completed. There are a large number of PhD students many of which come from overseas attesting to the reputation of this group. There is an ambition to develop work in biotechnology to extend the clinical diagnostic service on offer in the field of infertility. Funding of capital development will be achieved through industrial sponsorship.
It was noted that the pace of development of this group was hindered by difficulty in recruiting post doctoral research scientists of sufficient calibre. This indicated an intrinsic requirement for high standards that are reflected in the outcomes of the group. Development is also limited by the heavy teaching load of the principal investigator and steps should be taken by the institution to address this issue. Further the laboratory facilities need considerable improvement.
Blood, lymphopoietic and haematopoietic disorders (BLHD) [RG-Norte-Porto-700215-2923]
This is a strong and successful group that is being diverted by the degree of clinical work and teaching performed. The group, as such appears to have started in 2007. They have been successful in having papers published in international journals, some of which with relatively high impact in the field of Haematology. The group appears well managed but further efforts to narrow the focus of research are required.
ImmunoGenetics, Inflammation and Autoimmunity (IGIA) [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-215-2748]
This is a group of unrealised potential, but the group appears to have started as such only in 2007. They have developed patient cohorts in a number of important diseases and have developed a number of international collaborations, from which a few publications in journals of impact appeared. The funding and publication record, in general, however is modest. The reasons for this became apparent during the discussion as there was no sense of focus in either methodology or disease entity studied with the consequence that the research effort was dissipated in small packages. For progress to be made by this relatively small group attention must be paid to the management of this group in order to establish clear research priorities.
Infectious Diseases [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-215-2448]
The work of this group showed some promise in some of its parts, particularly with respect to emerging infectious diseases in the field of veterinary medicine. The potential was diverted by the necessity to perform routine diagnostics to support the research activity. There is a serious need to focus the research effort by eliminating some areas and consolidating in areas where significant progress had been made. The diversity of animal species and pathogens studied means that research effort is dissipated. There are numerous promising international collaborations although the bilateral benefit was not explicit. The energy demonstrated by the group leader suggested that with focus on areas of success and more application to obtain peer reviewed funding would yield rewards. The group publishes in good specialized journals but not with high impact. A number of MSc theses were completed.
Nephrology, Dialysis and Transplantation [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-215-2990]
This is a clinical group where clinical activity and teaching occupied at least 80% of the senior staff time. The group as such appears to have started in 2007. The group has a good record of publications in specialized journals. This group has made an attempt to focus but this process needs to go further. They have particular strengths in fibrinogenic amyloid. It is notable that a number of basic facilities are not available. This group needs to move beyond observational research. It was surprising that there were no practical links with the other nephrology group in Oporto (research Unit Porto-725).
Parkinson's Disease Study Group [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-215-2956]
This is a small group that was constituted only in 2007. It consists mainly of one senior PI, professor of Neurology, and one Post-Doc neuro-cognitive scientist. The research plan aims at identifying the neuropsychological impact of deep brain stimulation (STN-DBS) in patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD’s), as well as the positive effects and complications of this therapy in PD and in Parkin patients. In addition, quality of care studies is being planned, although the latter appear to be mainly carried out within a clinical setting.
In view of the increase in number of DBS treatments and the reported neuropsychological (side)-effects, this part of the study must be considered very relevant. In this context it is also very relevant that the Post-Doc Sara Cavaco has a proven interest in this project and a meritorious track record in neurocognitive studies (two papers in Brain in 2004 and 2005). The group’s PI, however, has a low scientific output what may be not surprising taking in consideration that his activity is mainly that of a clinical specialist. Nonetheless it is important that the group should reach sufficient critical mass to be able to make significant contributions in this competitive field.
In view of the small size of the group it is hard to judge the feasibility of this endeavour. Collaboration with other groups either in Portugal or abroad, for example groups with which Sara Cavaco has published jointly in the past, would be of great importance to strengthen the chances of success of this research line. Collaboration with other clinical centres employing DBS is actively pursued.
There is external funding from the Gulbenkian Foundation and the industry.
In addition the group is involved with other national groups to set up a national registry for Parkinson patients in Portugal. Indeed, if such an agreement can be worked out, and if each group can focus on a specific own subject, this is a promising idea. Besides deep brain stimulation, it is recommended that at least one group would also focus on the genetic aspects of PD and Parkin diseases, in order to gather genetically homogeneous patients, and patient samples, that may become available for fundamental and clinical research into these diseases.
It would be most appropriate for the group to interact with scientists working on human (molecular) genetics, and with a group of pathologists able to provide and/or characterize human post-mortem samples: the seeds for future success are there. However, if this group would “stand alone” it will be much more difficult to succeed.
This group should be considered a group "in development". Indeed the group has still to acquire sufficient structure. The group has still to show that it has the potential of creating the necessary research structure. In many countries such a group would be considered "emergent" and would receive a "stimulating fund" for a relatively short period, say 2 years, after which a new assessment should be made to decide whether, or not, the group would have the chance of continuing.
Nevertheless the expectations can be rated Good, mainly taking into consideration the expertise of the Post-Doc in this field and the clinical experience of the PI. However success will depend critically on improving the practical conditions as indicated above.
Pharmacology and Neurosciences [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-215-2560]
This research group is focused on the mechanisms of purinergic neuromodulation in several neuronal structures (synaptosomes) and systems (rat myenteric plexus) and effector tissues like the human corpus cavernosum and detrusor muscle. The strength of the approach is that there is a clear focus on purinergic mediated processes in different nervous structures. The group uses mainly physiological, biochemical and pharmacological methodologies. The various projects seem to form a coherent cluster. The previous work has elucidated several important aspects of the purine metabolism in cellular signaling both under normal and pathological conditions. These results are not only interesting from a basic scientific perspective but are also relevant for some human disorders like erectile dysfunctions and bladder outflow obstruction.
The results of the various projects have been published in peer-reviewed journals, some of which are top journals (J. Physiol (London), Brit. J; Pharmacol., Eur. J. Pharmacol.) in the research field although they may have only a moderately high impact factor. The PI of the group, Paulo Correia-de-Sá has a good track record and he has been able to attract a good deal of external funding, in particular from the FCT. Nonetheless, the research group is large and many members of the group do not have a visible publication track record.
A considerable number of PhD theses (5) have been completed in the past few years.
The relevance of the research is apparent. It concerns classical pharmacological research, not only fundamental but also applied to some relevant clinical situations.
The group requires a Post-Doc, with a solid background in immunochemistry and confocal microscopy, to lead the team of the Lab of electrophysiology and cell signalling. This would strengthen the group’s potential considerably if a talented candidate would be carefully selected.
The Panel wishes to remind that the group’s research could benefit from the incorporation of molecular genetic techniques, namely siRNA or microarray studies in cell lines, in order to investigate specific effects in their functional models, and to detect more precisely the mode of action of certain agents. Collaboration with molecular genetic groups would be, of course, also most welcome.

During the site visit, the PI and the research group, in general, gave a convincing presentation. Research in this group is quite well-focused and is of relatively high scientific quality.
The laboratory facilities seem to be adequate for the research work being done as they are, but could certainly be improved. The building is rather outdated for modern research. This is certainly a big handicap particularly in comparison with other laboratories with excellent housing conditions. However, building of a new faculty seems to be planned. This should be considered a very high priority.
Working Group for Clinical Research (GIC) [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-215-2945]
It was hard to judge this group as it is in the process of being established, as it appears to have started in 2007, and there is no specific track record of publication or funding to judge it by. Further it is not very clear who are the researchers that really can dedicate an appreciable part of their time to clinical research. The long list of collaborators is not informative since it is not accompanied by an account of the specific responsibilities of the people involved in research. Although there is recognition of the need to focus, this group is very diverse and it is not entirely clear that there was an effective mechanism to weed out the week and support the strong. One strong aspect of the group is that the hospital authorities had written dedicated research time into the job description of the clinical staff, but how this will be translated at the operational level is not yet clear. This aspirational group is being headed by Dr Lima but there is a concern that her involvement in carrying out this heavy task will divert her from leading and improving her haematological research group.
Due to the lack of definition of this group an evaluation score cannot be given at this stage.

Comentários da unidade

Dear President of FCT,

UMIB has received a merged report of the two FCT Evaluation Panels (with the coordinator common to both) who visited the unit in Feb 2nd and April 8th 2008. All members of UMIB have read the report and asked me, as Director of UMIB, to transmit to you our dismay and disagreement with the classification of "Good".

I ask of you, Professor Sentieiro, that an independent commission will read the report and consider whether it is correct or not to ascribe a classification of "Good" to UMIB.

Let me transmit to you a summary of our thoughts on reading the report (and UMIB’s activities report for the past 3 years):
1. The number of international papers published by UMIB in the last 3 years has more than doubled in comparison with previous evaluations.
2. UMIB has attracted a significant number of PhD scientists, who joined UMIB in the past few years.
3. Until 2007 (i.e. less than one year before the current evaluation procedure), UMIB was organized in 5 "clusters" in basic sciences: "Biology and Genetics of Reproduction", "Infectious Diseases", "Structural Pathology", "Pharmacology and Neurosciences" and "Experimental Medicine".
4. These 5 "clusters" are the ones that have been funded by FCT during the period under evaluation. On reading the comments of the Evaluation Panels regarding the activities of these "clusters", one has to conclude that the general impression is better than just "Good". In fact, there is objective data that demonstrates a clear progress in productivity of UMIB in comparison with that shown previously, which was rated as “Very Good”).
5. In 2007, UMIB took the initiative of inviting clinical research groups of the university affiliated Hospital Geral de Santo António to join UMIB, while they were being re-organized to integrate Centro Hospitalar do Porto. Of course, these clinical research groups received no funding from UMIB. They were presented to the Evaluation Panels to show our goal for the future of UMIB (2008-10, as required).
6. Much to our surprise, the report stated that we have become a "diverse assembly of research groups", a feature that is seen by the evaluators as a major weakness of UMIB. It does look that we were downgraded for the effort of initiating a process of bringing clinical research labs into UMIB in order to promote integration between basic and clinical research. And this is done even if these newcomers could not have been the subject of evaluation since they received no funding from UMIB.