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The prescription for quality

In the series of articles about the 70 years of the University of S

Fabrício Marques

Let justice be done to the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences of the University of São Paulo: in almost 106 years of existence, the institution has displayed an inexhaustible capacity of overcoming difficulties and responding to challenges. Founded on October 12, 1898, as the São Paulo Free School of Pharmacy, it kept on its feet in its early days thanks to the abnegation of its founders. Physicians or members of the São Paulo Pharmaceutical Society, they would give lessons free of charge ? or receiving symbolic quantities ? until the institution?s budget came out of the red. The school?s creation has been planned for over 20 years, but it was thanks to the group led by the physician from the state of Rio de Janeiro, Bráulio Gomes, and pharmacist Pedro Baptista de Andrade, that the idea flourished, making the fourth pharmacy course in the country arise and the first in São Paulo.

New demands were soon made of it. The government of the province delegated to the school the task of submitting aspiring dentists and midwives to examinations ?while special courses if the art of dentistry and of childbirth do not exist in the state”. So in 1902, the institution took onto itself the task of educating these professionals, becoming the School of Pharmacy, Dentistry and Obstetrics. The two mew careers were to become dismembered in the course of time ? Obstetrics stayed away in 1911, and Dentistry in 1962.The excellence of the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences is to be explained, in a way, by its capacity for reinventing itself. The course came very close to closing its doors in the 1920s.

The competition with other pharmacy schools and scandal that canceled the school?s federal accreditation made the pupils disband and the professors ask for their resignation, uninterested in working in an institution without a license for functioning. The school?s assets were arrested, and, in 1932, the pharmacist and anatomist Benedicto Montenegro was designated interventor. In the following year, the federal government re-established the accreditation. Montenegro was a key personage in the rehabilitation of the school. He got it working and, some time later, convinced the São Paulo government to incorporate it into the project for the University of São Paulo.

In 1934, the São Paulo College of Pharmacy and Dentistry ceased to exist. In its place, the Faculty of Pharmacy and Dentistry of the University of São Paulo was created. In practice, pupils and professors were integrated with USP personnel, just as the building in Três Rios street, in the district of Bom Retiro, in the center of São Paulo, was expropriated and incorporated into the university?s assets. The continuity of the project cherished by the São Paulo Pharmaceutical Society was guaranteed: that of educating “young men capable of working with chemistry, qualified to work in the industry, and with sufficient courage and knowledge to face up to the difficulties of serious and important analyses”, as proposed an editorial of May 1895 in the Revista Pharmacêutical [Pharmaceutical Magazine], the official organ of the entity.

In the last 70 years, the period in which its history has been bound up with that of USP, the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences has not limited itself to educating personnel. It has consolidated itself as a national landmark in teaching, research and postgraduate studies. With 800 undergraduate students, 250 studying for a master?s degree, and 200 for a doctorate, the institution boasts today 80 members in its teaching staff ? 98% of them doctors and 96% dedicated full time to teaching and research. In 2003, it had a production of 102 articles published in periodicals in the country and 91 abroad. “The objective is to publish more and more and to educate human resources. Many of our masters and doctors go to lecture in other universities”, says Professor Maria Inês Rocha Miritello Santoro, the president of the school?s Research Commission.

The four departments dedicate themselves to lines of research that are innovative in Brazil, the relevance of which may be measured by the practical application that they will have in the life and health of the Brazilians. The team led by Professor Jorge Mancini Filho, from the Food and Experimental Nutrition Department, has been studying, since the end of the 1980s, natural antioxidant substances found in foods like the oil palm, cashew nuts, Brazil nuts, rosemary or oregano. The objective, to start with, was to test the use of this raw material to replace synthetic antioxidants, used to preserve foods and suspected of doing harm to human health. The research gained importance in the course of the 1990s, while the evidence was building up that antioxidants may help to prevent diseases. It has been shown, for example, that it is possible to enrich food, like fish, with antioxidant substances ? depending on the diet that is given to the fish. This means that the flesh is enriched in nutritional terms and takes longer to deteriorate.

Professor Franco Lajolo, an expert in functional foods, those that have therapeutic and preventive properties, has produced some important contributions, for example, for an understanding of the metabolism of fruit after it has been picked and helped to reveal the biochemical processes that make them sweet and tender. Professor Silvia Cozzolino heads up researches into the availability of iron in food and its nutritional use. One of them was a study about the average daily ingestion of some minerals in Brazilian diets, according to the region, age group and social condition. The lowest values for iron intake were in the diets of the elderly in rest homes n São Paulo, with 5.4 milligrams a day (mg/day), and in the diet of a low income population in Santa Catarina, with 6.4 mg/day. The ideal is a daily consumption per adult of 15 mg/day.

In the Clinical and Toxicological Analyses Department, works like those of Professor Ana Campos stand out; in partnership with USP?s Chemistry Institute, she helped to develop a technology for clinical diagnoses based on the use of reactions that emit light and make it possible to measure the level of various enzymes of interest in the laboratory. Professor Maria Inês Rocha Miritello Santoro, from the Pharmacy Department, has been researching, for over a decade, into enantiomeric separation, using high performance liquid chromatography in a chiral phase.

This is a technique for controlling the quality of medicines, capable of separating molecules that show the same chemical groupings as radicals of a carbon atom ? although one in which one is the mirror image of the other. Distinguishing the two kinds of molecule is important, because, usually, only one of them shows a therapeutic effect. In some cases, the other molecule, besides not having any therapeutic effect, may show toxic properties. With the technique, it is possible to separate and to quantify the two kinds of compounds.

Examples like this are just a sample of the researches carried out in the set of concrete blocks located on Linneu Prestes avenue (after a former director of the institution), in University City. There are works in many other areas, like the area of drugs with an activity against Chagas?s disease, in the diagnosis of cysticercosis, a parasitosis, or in genetic markers for diagnosis. “In the last 15 years, investments in the renewal of laboratories, made by the Inter-American Development Bank, FAPESP and the CNPq, have given the backing for the leap in quality”, says Professor Jorge Mancini, a former director of the school.

The College of Pharmaceutical Sciences was an example of integration with the University of São Paulo. Unlike other units that already existed before the advent of USP, like the schools of Medicine and of Law, it made no complaint when changing its traditional address, in the Bom Retiro district, for an area of 80,000 square meters in muddy University City, in 1966. “In spite of the difficulties, the campus seemed to be the ideal place for carrying out activities, without any noises, in contrast with the classrooms on Três Rios street, constantly disturbed by heavy truck traffic”, registered chair professor Maria Aparecida Pourchet-Campos in her book A vida da Faculdade de Ciências Farmacêuticas da Universidade de São Paulo [The life of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences of the University of São Paulo] (1984).

This time was a watershed in the history of the institution. The change of address had, certainly, a symbolic impact. The building constructed in the unpopulated meadows of Bom Retiro at the 20th century was left behind. The original construction is still standing and, listed as a heritage property, is housing cultural workshops of the government of the State of São Paulo. The old students keep prosaic memories of the 136 window building. Like the solemn image of Sicilian professor Quintino Mingoja. “He would made the pupils stand up when he went into the classroom”, explains Paulo Minami, a retired professor from the Clinical and Toxicological Analyses Department, the organizer of the school?s historical collection. “Mingoja retired and afterwards went back to the school to give lessons.

He was very hurt on the first day of classes, when a class unadvisedly remained seated when he entered the room.” At the building on Três Rios street, the university students would pay court to the girls from Saint Agnes College, on the other side of the road. The old premises were also the stage of historical events, such the award, with the title of doctorhonoris causa, for Alexander Fleming, the father of penicillin, on a visit to Brazil in 1954. The students formed a committee to the railway station in Brás district to welcome Fleming, and were surprised with the crowd of ordinary people. But the father of penicillin passed unnoticed ? the people were awaiting the arrival of the Brazilian Soccer Team, led by its star Leônidas da Silva.

Also in the 1960s, professors who had molded the faculty after it joined USP retired. They are names like Carlos Alberto Liberalli, Henrique Tastaldi, Aristóteles Orsini and Walter Leser. The institution?s formation was to be crowned at the turn of the decade into the 1970s, with the university reform. The Faculty of Pharmacy and Biochemistry came to be called the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and a restructuring was put in motion that originated the present four departments: Pharmacy, Foodstuffs and Experimental Nutrition, Clinical and Toxicological Analyses, and Biochemical-Pharmaceutical Technology. “The reform made possible a necessary reorganization of the curriculum”, says Jorge Mancini. “Before the reform, research was not as intense as it is today”, claims the professor.

The image of the pharmacist as a sort of doctor for moments of affliction became definitively a thing of the past. If at the beginning of the 20th century, the profession?s appeal took strength from the medicine adverts on the trams ? “He was saved by creosoted rum” ?, in the 1960s, the labor market expanded geometrically, with the installation in the country of the variety of medicine factories. The majority of pharmacists-biochemists leaves the school to work in the drug industry. The areas of clinical analyses and the food industry also attract professionals ? in a labor market that continues to change. In the last four years, the curriculum of the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences gained 21 new disciplines ? momentous themes like Genetically Modified Foodstuffs, Generic Medicines and Bioequivalence, or Forensic Toxicology. As you see, the institution is always reinventing itself.