R&D Institutions

Resultado da avaliação 2007 na área de Ciências da Saúde

Unidade de I&D

Centro de Farmacologia e Biopatologia Química [HESC-Norte-Porto-38] visitada em 21/04/2008

Classificação: Good

Comentários do painel de avaliação
Sobre a unidade
This unit clearly differs from the other three units the panel has visited, as it is affiliated with a medical rather than a pharmacy school. The unit has a long history of successful scientific research and training and claims that its costs per published paper are way below the national average in Portugal.

Some groups within the unit consistently contribute to scientific knowledge at the international level, but the overall unit is not well focused. It was the impression of the panel that collaboration within the unit remains somewhat divided along departmental lines (pharmacology vs. biochemistry), and a better integration and collaboration between all groups of the unit is recommended to better profit from each others expertise and create synergism. Some groups within the unit (Gonçalves and Polonia) particularly do not appear to contribute to its main scientific themes and their future role within the unit is being questioned by the panel, irrespective of their individual scientific merit. The former group on inflammation and epithelial transporters has not been evaluated as it has been indicated that this group has been discontinued and/or merged with the other group led by Soares da Silva.

The unit has a good track record in the training of young scientists. The presence of a considerable number of grant-financed post-docs within the unit speaks to its scientific potential.

The present unit leader (Azevedo) is close to retirement. The panel recommends that the unit enters an early discussion process who will lead it in the future. This was felt to be of particular importance in the quest for a more focused approach to a common theme. The new unit leader should on the one hand be an experienced scientist with a strong international reputation and on the other hand a person with proven leadership abilities and the capability to provide vision and install enthusiasm across the unit. The recruitment of a new leader should follow an open process similar to what is common in many countries. In a similar vein, the external advisory committee of the unit may benefit from some fresh blood, as it largely consists of highly respected but long retired scientists.
Sobre os grupos de investigação
Angiogenesis and inflammation in disease. Identification of the molecular mechanisms for prevention and therapeutic approaches [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-38-2558]
The overall angiogenesis focus in this group is well-defined and relates to very relevant medical indications. The investigations have involved testing the effects of various compounds and drugs in cell culture. The future plans are to continue along the same path but to include a research line which evaluates the effects of anti-angiogenic treatment therapies using patient material. A second line focusing on blood vessel formation during tissue growth, from the point of view of tissue engineering, is very timely and also fits well with the basic biochemical expertise of the group. Given the relevance and timeliness of these topics, the publications from this group should appear in journals with greater impact than those in which they have mostly been publishing.
Angiotensin receptors [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-38-2752]
The group focuses on angiotensin receptors. While it has a long-standing tradition, its scientific output in recent years has been moderate only. This may be partly explained by their strong activity in the organization of international conferences, including a meeting of the European Pharmacological Societies in 2004. While such international activities are laudable, a research group is defined by its research. Getting back on track in this regard will require considerable effort. In this regard the group may benefit from expanding the scope of their methods to include more modern techniques from biochemistry and cell biology.
Arterial Hypertension [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-38-2761]
This group was also not represented by senior staff during the site visit, which has limited the ability of the panel for a detailed evaluation.

This group differs from the other groups of the unit as it is exclusively involved in clinical research. There have been several papers published in very good or even excellent journals. However, the panel failed to see specific investigator-driven research questions of this group. Rather it was the impression of the panel that the group is mainly participating in industry-driven clinical research in recent years. This would also explain why the PI is an author on several relevant publications, but hardly ever a first or senior author in such international multi-institutional studies. As such, the group appears more to be an executor than a driving force of relevant studies.

Based upon the above the panel failed to see a specific scientific contribution of this group to the overall unit and recommends that its participation in the unit is discontinued.

The group receives a good rating based upon its publications, but the panel was not certain whether these publications indeed reflect intellectual contributions of the group. However, the panel could not resolve this in the absence of the PI.
Firefly luciferase [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-38-2576]
This group is mainly engaged in research in enabling technologies, particularly the use of luciferase-based assay systems. This is important work, and the group has published in very good to excellent journals.

A more detailed evaluation of this group was impossible as it was not represented by a senior scientist during the site visit. In the absence of such representation, it was the impression of the panel that this group is thematically not well placed within the unit. The panel does not feel that this group should be part of the unit as it does not share research interests or collaborations with any other group of the unit. In this regard, the absence of its PI during the site visit was not felt to be entirely coincidental. While this does not reflect on the scientific merit of the group per se, the panel recommends that the group should better be placed in a different unit.
Inflammation and epithelial transporters [RG-X-HESC-Norte-Porto-38-2479]
Nutritional Biochemistry [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-38-2575]
The work of the group is largely related to various biological effects of flavonoids and has a phytopharmacological flavour. The publications from the group indicate collaborations with the Lino and Martel group within the unit, although this appears to stem more from their methodological experience than from joint scientific interests. Their research appears solid but not extraordinarily exciting. This is reflected by a publications record which is largely in journals of moderate impact.
Oxidative stress, hypertension and aging [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-38-2515]
This group has a long-standing international reputation in the field of renal pharmacology (particularly its modulation by dopaminergic mechanisms) and transporter mechanisms. This is reflected in a continuous stream of original publications in highly respected international journals. Moreover, the group includes several grant-financed post-docs, an unusual but very welcome feature among the units this panel has visited. The plan to broaden their scope to the gastro-intestinal tract and toll-like receptors, which appears a logical extension of their work related to the kidney.

The panel wonders whether this group is optimally placed within this unit or may benefit from primarily working within the nephrology unit in Porto.
Studies on the transmembranar transport of organic compounds [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-38-2528]
The group works on the characterization of the effect of a variety of drugs and dietary compounds on organic cation transporters in the plasma membrane of the intestinal epithelium and placenta. While the research is resulting in relevant information, especially concerning the serotonin transporter, there does not seem to be a clearly defined problem/goal of the work which has been done or is being proposed. This is also reflected in the low impact rating of most publications coming from this group. The panel feels that the group’s work on the placenta is the most promising part of their work and that a focus on this part should be promising. It did not become particularly clear to the panel why access to placenta tissue should be rate-limiting within a major hospital, particularly as animal models may provide a useful addition to the placenta work.

The group receives a fair rating, but this could be improved in the future if a more focused approach resulting in a better publications output is being used.

Comentários da unidade

The classification now attributed to this unit is absolutely unfair. The unit has maintained a very strong activity and scientific production. It is focusing on one of the most relevant present public health problems: the metabolic syndrome. The strong background on adrenergic mechanisms and monoamine metabolism, transport and activity, mostly focused on the cardiovascular system, represents a great asset to tackle this issue. Our strong experience in transporters is being applied at various levels (renal and intestinal dopamine and electrolyte metabolism, interference by aging, hypertension and oxidative stress; intestinal and placental absorption of nutrients, interference by nutrient/drug interaction, alkaline phosphatase activity and redox events; adipose tissue development, plasticity and metabolism and interference by adrenergic neurotransmitters, co-transmitters, stress hormones, inflammatory cytokines and angiogenic events).
New members with different scientific backgrounds, including Nutritional Sciences, created an excellent opportunity for the unit’s strategy: to adopt the metabolic syndrome as a problem and interdisciplinarity as a way of working.
Despite its usual classification as excellent, this unit has had none programmatic funding since many years. Notwithstanding, its production encompasses at least 5 publications (ISI) per PhD per year and thousands of citations. One international publication from this unit has cost 1/30 of the mean cost of Portuguese international publications over several recent years.
Activity and organization evolved according to the recommendations of previous evaluation panels, a better performance having been registered on all of the raised issues. Astonishingly, the classification moved from excellent to good. Ironically, whereas excellent in previous years did not mean any funding benefit, the present classification will guarantee a 50% decrease in funding.
Something seems to be deeply wrong with Science evaluation in Portugal.