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Basic and Translational Cardiovascular Research

Prof. Inês Falcão Pires
Group Leader

The group has proven itself as a national reference and a strong international competitor in basic and translational cardiovascular research over the past years having established important national and international collaborations which enabled the participation in a European Union funded consortia and pharmacological testing in animal models in partnership with international pharmaceutical companies. The influence of physicians in the research group has ever since its origin been responsible for a strong translational focus that has increasingly been supported by new molecular and histological methods conveyed by highly trained non-physician biomedical scientists that have integrated the group. Although wider areas of cardiovascular, respiratory, renal, liver and general physiology have been explored, its research efforts have been mainly devoted to unravelling the intricate pathophysiological mechanisms of heart failure, with a special focus on preserved ejection fraction heart failure, and right ventricular function in pulmonary hypertension. This department holds large modern animal facilities at Faculty of Medicine of University of Porto with capability for surgical interventions in small and large animals, an haemodynamic laboratory for in vivo cardiac function evaluation in small and large animals, and equipment and know-how for echocardiographic evaluation, metabolic assessment, and exercise testing with maximum oxygen consumption determination (an analogous of cardiopulmonary exercise test). The group has a long experience in developing animal models of disease such as aortic and pulmonary artery banding, myocardial infarction and others, and is internationally recognized for its capability to assess myocardial function by pressure-volume loop analysis and echocardiography. Furthermore, in vivo evaluation is complemented by functional evaluation ex vivo at the organ, tissue, and cell levels to characterize the overall mechanisms that underlie any particular cardiac disease process, with Langendorff/working heart preparations, intact muscle strip and intact and skinned cardiomyocyte set-ups, respectively. This perspective enables an assessment of cardiac function without (i) the confounding influence of systemic neuroendocrine or coronary perfusion, in the first case, (ii) the effect of ventricular geometry, in the second, and (iii) the extracellular matrix and even the sarcolemma, in the last. This integrative approach we constantly pursue is completed by pharmacology studies and a full molecular evaluation supported on nucleic acid quantification, polymorphism detection, in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry, protein and phospho-protein quantification, transcription factor activity assessment, myocardial energy status evaluation and cell culture studies. This group provides a fundamental support to all clinical research activities inasmuch as it centralizes sample storage and cataloguing as well as gathers all functional, molecular and histology studies, but also because it permits ex vivo functional evaluation of patients’ myocardial muscle strips and cardiomyocytes. Experimental functional evaluation ex vivo and molecular and histological studies in patients’ samples are fundamental to strengthen clinical and imaging results and constitute a further step towards unravelling disease mechanism at the tissue and cell level. As part of the translational research continuum, the group tests new pharmacological therapies in small animal models and provides animal cardiovascular disease models for imaging studies whenever considered important to substantiate clinical findings.