Endocrinology and Metabolism

Publication Analysis 2005-2011
by Kathleen Gransalke, Labtimes 03/2013

View the Tables: Europe...and the World, Most Cited Authors...and Papers

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Glomerular capillaries (purple) and podocytes (green) of the kidney – painting representation of a Scanning Electron Microscope image Image: Gabriele Perazza, University of Illinois

Modern lifestyles have caused European hormone and metabolism researchers to increasingly focus their research efforts on diabetes and obesity. Interestingly, especially Northern European institutions play a huge role in advancing understanding and treatment of these diseases.

When Väinö Myllyrinne (see photo above) was born on February 27th, 1909 in Helsinki, he looked just like any other boy. But when he got older, things started to change – he didn’t stop growing. At the tender age of 21, he stood 222 cm tall, by the age of 38 he had grown to 251 cm. During the early sixties, he was even named the tallest person in the world. Myllyrinne suffered from a condition called acromegaly, in which the anterior pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone (GH). In almost all cases, this overproduction can be traced back to a tumour of the hormone-producing gland.

Hormones, thus, fulfil many vital regulatory tasks in plant and animal organisms. There is almost no bodily function that is not influenced by them. To name just a few examples, adiponectin, released from fat tissue, increases glucose uptake and controls energy metabolism, brain natriuretic peptide is involved with blood pressure regulation and the melanocyte stimulating hormone plays a role in pigment production in skin and hair. And just imagine what life would be like without sex hormones? Then again, there are some who say that a world without testosterone would be a better place...

An easy-to-fool system

Interestingly, as easily as the hormone system orchestrates physiological functions, it is itself fooled from the outside. One especially impressive example is the intrauterine position phenomenon, first observed by Frederick vom Saal at the University of Missouri. When studying litter-bearing animals, like mice, he found that whenever a female foetus developed between two male ‘brothers’ it turned out to be more aggressive than her ‘sisters’. This is because such female foetuses are exposed to a much higher testosterone level from their adjacent brothers, than other female foetuses (Prog Clin Biol Res, 169:135-79). Another example is found in endocrine disrupting chemicals like Bisphenol A, used in the plastics industry as a flexibiliser. These hormone-mimicking compounds that can bind to the same hormone receptors have already been found to impact, e.g., the fertility of some species.

To cut a long story short: hormones are vital chemicals and there is much to learn about them. Which is also exactly what European endocrinologists and metabolism researchers have done successfully from 2005-2011. For our current publication analysis and also for future rankings, we decided to shorten the analysis period from 12 to seven years. This, we hope, will bring some fresh breeze into the ranking, shuffling the list of the top 30 aspirants to allow a look at the more current situation of a given research discipline. Apart from that, we also hope to get a better overview of the publication output by single researchers, especially those that committed themselves to epidemiological studies, which is usually synonymical to publishing a huge amount of papers. In our current publication analysis, Endocrinology and Metabolism, for example, almost all top 30, most-cited researchers belong to this type of scientist, as we will see later.

Let’s start to take a closer look at the actual results of the hormone and metabolism research publication analysis. As usual, we begin with the nations ranking, which is, once again, based on expert journals. Web of Science, the database we used for this analysis, identified more than 100 journals belonging to the category endocrinology and metabolism. In Europe, over 80,000 articles were published in these expert journals between 2005 and 2011. Most articles, 10%, appeared in Diabetes, followed by Diabetologia (6%) and the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research (5%). The journal names are already hinting at the hottest topics in hormone and metabolism research.

England back at the top

After only placing third in the renal research ranking (LT 2-2013) – behind Germany and Italy – England takes the lead again, leaving behind Germany, Italy, France, The Netherlands and Sweden. Compared to the 2006 analysis of the same discipline, only the latter two switched positions. Greece managed the biggest upward leap in the ranking table, climbing from 19th in 2006 to 15th place in 2013. The Czech Republic and Switzerland also made some headway, gaining three places each. Where there are winners, there must be losers, too. This time, it hit Finland, who crashed down from position 9 to 12.

Seen globally, European researchers don’t need to hide behind their US colleagues. In both the number of articles published (81,391 vs 50,318) and the number of overall citations (697,994 vs 661,535), they ‘beat’ their peers from across The Pond. Computing with these numbers, however, also means that publications, originating from the US continent, have a greater impact on the endocrinology scene, judging by the citation/article ratio (8.6 vs 13.1). On the same level, when it comes to number of citations are Canada and Japan – both countries gathered more than 90,000. Canada may, however, boast a much higher citation/article value.

Now, let’s move on to our most-cited European endocrinologists and metabolism researchers. When looking at the home institutions of our top 30, we note, with astonishment, a very interesting geographical distribution. The first three places go to UK universities (Oxford, Cambridge and Exeter); the top 5 is completed by two Finnish researchers. In general, North European institutions did especially well in hormone research, securing altogether ten of the 30 available spots – Finland (4), Sweden (2), Denmark (4). Besides their three places at the top, UK institutions occupied eight more positions, whilst only two researchers from the usually strong German universities managed to get in this time.

Before we reveal who they are, we should mention that we excluded researchers who dedicate the greater part of their research to identify connections between hormones and either cancer or nutrition. We did this because these two disciplines, cancer and nutrition research, will be analysed separately in later issues.

One look at the research areas of our top 30 reveals there are just a few hot topics (obesity, osteoporosis) and one ‘torrid’ topic, which is diabetes. Up until place 15, all researchers are interested in diabetes research. As could be expected from a clinical research topic, most of them are epidemiologists, who are trying to understand the metabolic disease through, in many cases, Genome Wide Association studies. Amongst them Mark I. McCarthy, 1st, Andrew Hattersley, 3rd, Timothy Frayling, 6th, and Philippe Froguel, 10th. The latter had found, in 1992, the genetic cause of type II diabetes, which is due to insulin resistance rather than underproduction. In his paper, Froguel and co. report “linkage between the glucokinase locus on chromosome 7p and diabetes in 16 French families with maturity-onset diabetes of the young” (Nature, 356(6365):162-4). Glucokinase, in turn, is a vital enzyme for blood glucose homeostasis.

Epidemiology at the heart of diabetes research

A few other researchers are investigating how life-style influences disease progression (Jaakko Tuomilehto, 4th), how disease onset can be prevented (Nick Wareham, 2nd), what diagnostic tests are best to predict the disease (Leif Groop, 7th), or they want to explore its pathogenesis more closely (Oluf Pedersen, 9th, Andrew Morris, 14th, Michael Stumvoll, 26th, Valeriya Lyssenko, 28th). Others are working on pharmaceutical solutions. Thus, Jens Holst, 21st, is trying to develop glucagon-like peptide 1 and 2 (GLP-1/2) as treatment options for patients suffering from diabetes or obesity, while Bart Staels, 22nd, favours peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) as potential drug targets.

Within our top 30, there are only three researchers not or only partly interested in diabetes: Osteoporosis expert Pierre Delmas (16th), who sadly passed away in 2008, obesity researcher Steve O’Rahilly (17th) and stress scientist and neuroendocrinologist Florian Holsboer (25th).

Modern lifestyles have caused metabolic diseases like diabetes to become a major health concern. Thus, endocrinologists are investing more and more of their time and financial resources into finding genetic bases of the condition and developing better drugs. Some day, it is almost certain that not only insulin will be effectively flowing through patients’ bloodstreams but also lots of ‘happy’ hormones.

View the Tables: Europe...and the World, Most Cited Authors...and Papers

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Last Changed: 09.05.2013