It is common to see him arrive on his scooter. He likes to cook, but always without a pinch of salt. He was the doctor of Miguel Torga, Curado Ribeiro and Fialho Gouveia, among other illustrious personalities. At 66, he divides his time between classrooms, the hospital and research. In his free time, he devotes himself to ship modeling. Do you know who he is?
We are talking about Jorge Polónia, principal investigator of the PharmaHTA research group of CINTESIS, Associate Professor with Aggregation in Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto (FMUP), Guest Full Professor of the University of Aveiro, Coordinator of the Pharmacovigilance Unit of Porto, Consultant of Medicine and Hypertension of the Hospital Pedro Hispano/Local Health Unit of Matosinhos, and also member of the Board of the European Society of Hypertension.
He was born in Porto, to a family of medical doctors and university professors. He wanted to be a chemical engineer, but he ended up changing his mind while studying at the Liceu D. Manuel II (today, the Rodrigues de Freitas Secondary School), influenced by a professor and by his enthusiasm after learning about the discovery of the DNA. He studied at FMUP, from 1970 to 1976, graduating with a grade of 17 and an indelible mark left by three professors: Manuel Teixeira da Silva, Walter Osswald and Mário Cerqueira Gomes.
He is a specialist in Clinical Pharmacology and Internal Medicine and a European Hypertension Specialist of the ESH (he also completed the internship in Cardiology, but did not take the specialty exam because the Portuguese Medical Association (Ordem dos Médicos) only allows doctors to have two specialties). From 1976 to 1998, he developed his medical career at the Department of Internal Medicine of the São João Hospital, in Porto, where he set up a pioneering system of ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (the 24-hour MAP, now used by all health professionals).
In between he worked as a research fellow in a unit specialized in blood pressure in city of Glasgow, in the United Kingdom (1986 – 1987), finished his doctorate at FMUP (1989), and obtained his Aggregation in Medicine (1993). Over de course of 20 years, he worked as medical doctor at the Monfortinho Thermal Baths, where he had many jobs: he attended doctors, artists and well-known business men, he delivered babies and he even performed an autopsy. He promoted research in Africa, particularly in Mozambique. His first doctoral student (so far he has supervised two “handfuls” of them) was also the first student of the University of Porto to defend his dissertation from the Eduardo Mondlane University, in Maputo, after the April 25th.
In 1998, he accepted a position as Associate Professor at FMUP and took up the challenge of setting up, together with his colleague José Alberto Silva, the Arterial Hypertension and Cardiovascular Risk Unit of the Pedro Hispano Hospital, in Matosinhos, which is considered by the European Society of Hypertension to be a unit of excellence. There, he has been keen to balance medical practice, teaching and research at the highest level. “Research has to be published in indexed journals. If science is not published, it simply does not exist”, affirms the researcher who is also author of more than a hundred scientific articles published in international journals, like the one named Top Paper of the Journal Hypertension, in 2016. He has also won many other awards.
Almost 10 years ago he founded the North Pharmacovigilance Unit, eventually renamed Porto Pharmacovigilance Unit, that he coordinates from the very beginning together with Altamiro da Costa Pereira, CINTESIS founder and current director of the FMUP. At CINTESIS, Jorge Polónia is the leader of the research group PharmaHTA, dedicated to therapeutics, pharmacovigilance and diagnosis of arterial hypertension, his field of choice, as it is clear from his participation as one of the authors of the ESC/ESH Guidelines for the management of arterial hypertension of the European Society of Cardiology and the European Society of Hypertension, published in 2018.
As a researcher, he also coordinated the first study of hypertension prevalence and salt intake in Portugal (The PHYSA Study ). “Each person consumes, on average, 10.7 grams of salt per day, twice of what is recommended by the World Health Organization. This has devastating consequences for our health, like cerebrovascular accident (CVA), stomach cancer, obesity, kidney stones, osteoporosis, etc.)”, he warns.
This and other studies were the base of important legislative initiatives, such as the first law to restrict the amount of salt used in bread making, nationally. However, the researcher knows that it is not enough to legislate on the matter. For that reason, he is coordinating, together with Conceição Calhau, the initiative Menos Sal Portugal (Less Salt Portugal) aiming to reduce the intake of salt among the Portuguese by changing eating habits.
Jorge Polónia teaches by example. “In my house, not a pinch of salt is used. I love cooking and my roasted meat is delicious. The important thing is to know how to manage aromatic herbs. Reducing salt intake is not enough. We also have to increase the amounts of potassium we take”, he assures, in respect of another study authored by him.
As for the future, he prefers not to make great plans, but he is far from thinking about retirement. He hopes to continue to help his students, colleagues and patients, contributing to solutions that promote the health of the Portuguese.
I want to continue working because I love my job, but I do not plan for more than six months. Life takes many turns, there are many imponderables. It is up to us to adapt to the times; not the other way around.
I’ll probably keep working. I hope until the day I die. I do not want to have a quiet retirement, on the sofa and watching TV.
Life Beyond Research
I live with my wife and I have a grandson, who is in London, with whom I speak every day. In my free time, I like to ride a bike, to ski, to go walk my dog Mel (Honey) – a female Labrador; and to make ship models. Each ship takes about a year and a half to make. As the hands move, the head rests.