Animals in research

Medical tubesWe are dedicated to saving lives by developing better treatments and cures for heart conditions. As part of this work we support essential research using cells grown in a laboratory, computer models, and human volunteers.

Where these are not feasible, we fund research involving animals.

Recently, a BHF-funded study at Maastricht University involving dogs was suspended after a campaign by an animal rights group. This has been reported in the UK by a national newspaper.
Explaining why the BHF funded this project, our Medical Director Professor Peter Weissberg said: “This study could help to improve a pacemaker treatment for people suffering from severe heart failure – a debilitating condition that ruins the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the UK.
“The treatment, known as cardiac resynchronisation therapy, can help control the symptoms of heart failure which commonly include overwhelming breathlessness and chronic fatigue. But this treatment does not entirely relieve the symptoms, the risk of death remains high and in some patients it does not work at all.
"If this treatment were to be made more effective, it could dramatically improve the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people living with heart failure.
“The researchers are working to improve this pacemaker treatment but these studies must be carried out in animals before they can be assessed in clinical trials in heart failure patients. The electrical wiring and size of a dog’s heart is very similar to a human heart, allowing the researchers to see how pacemakers might behave in patients. There is currently no alternative that could be used to carry out this potentially life-changing research.
"Our research has led to life-saving medical advances for heart patients over the past half century. But there's so much work to be done and, for the foreseeable future, that will involve using animals in research."
Find out more about heart failure and why research like this is so important.
Read our Medical Director’s blog to learn more about the research.

We actively encourage our funded researchers to use fewer animals and look for other research methods. If that's not possible we require them to apply the highest standards to animal welfare.

Our research has led to life-saving medical advances for heart patients over the past half century. But there's so much work to be done and, for the foreseeable future, that will involve using animals in research.

All our grant applications go through a strict peer review system when deciding which to fund. This makes sure that all BHF-funded scientists are following a clear set of principles - the three Rs - to reduce the number of animals used and maximise their welfare:

  • replace with non-animal alternatives where possible
  • reduce the number of animals used
  • refine the care and attention of animals to achieve the highest welfare standards

When our researchers do use animals, all work is carried out in line with strict Home Office guidelines.  

This is not an issue we or our funded researchers take lightly.

The research community is constantly developing new techniques to help us use fewer animals or non-animal models. Our scientists carry out as much of their research as possible on human volunteers, cells, or computers.

However, completely replacing all animals in research is not yet possible. There is no alternative method that can reproduce the complicated working of our hearts and circulatory systems.

More work to be done

Many of the treatments we commonly use today could not have been developed without animal research. Heart failure medicines, pacemakers, and heart transplants are just a few examples.

But coronary heart disease is still the UK’s single biggest killer. We need more research to develop new treatments and help people live longer happier lives. And sometimes, we will need animal research to do this.  

For more information please see our Animal and Heart Research leaflet or email policy@bhf.org.uk.