Where your money goes
One of the questions we get asked most
frequently is ‘where do you spend your money?’
Digital media officer Corinne Pritchard reveals just one of the
ways your donations help us get the best work from
our heart scientists.
Our biggest investment is in research into heart and circulatory
diseases. Last year we gave over £84 million of
your donations to scientists who are working out exactly how our
heart and circulatory systems work; how to reduce damage from
heart attacks; and how to combat
heart disease. And because we’re a
charity and accountable to you, we don’t just give the money away
to anyone – we want to fund the best of the best.
We fund scientists at all stages in their
careers, and at the top of the pile are our BHF Chairs
- affectionately called our 'Profs'.
So how do you get to be a BHF Chair?
According to our research advisor Dr Shannon
Amoils, these talented men and women are the most
dedicated researchers, mentors for future generations of the many
scientists working on the heart, magnets for talent from all over
the world who can bring out the best in their colleagues, and
creators of heart science that’s really going places.
Shannon says: “They go through a rigorous
selection process - their work is examined in minute detail by our
committees, and experts from all over the world are brought in to
cast light on the quality of their work and their international
Only truly exceptional
applicants are eventually admitted into their ranks.
What kind of scientist do you have to be?
When you think of a heart scientist, what
comes to mind? Perhaps you see someone in a white lab coat, testing
pills or injections, or a heart surgeon in blue scrubs and mask,
working out new ways to make your heart
bypass more effective.
The truth is that each of our nearly thirty BHF Chairs represents quite different areas of
heart science. To us, although arteries, pacemakers and pills are part what our
researchers are working on, unlocking the mysteries of the heart is
about so much more.
Some of the secrets of the heart are locked
deep in our genetic code. Genes can make your more
likely to get heart disease, or your children might be more at risk
of being born with congenital heart
disease. And our bodies hold more mysteries our scientists are
looking to solve. By using ever-more sophisticated microscopes to
scrutinize the proteins and cells
we’re made of, they’re trying to work out where and why they can go
wrong, and how to fix them or stop them going wrong in the first
Still more scientists are looking at the
risk of heart disease in the
public at large. Surveying thousands of people and
crunching billions of numbers over the decades,
they’re able to work out what whole populations can do to help
lower their risk.
We even have scientists looking at how our
state of mind can affect our heart and the way
blood moves around the body.
I spoke to two of our newest BHF Chairs –
Professor John Danesh, an
epidemiologist working at the University of Cambridge, and Professor Gavin Murphy, a heart surgeon who’ll
shortly be taking up his post at the University of Leicester.
A Hubble telescope for cardiovascular science
of our newest BHF Chairs is John Danesh at the University of
Cambridge. He’s an epidemiologist – someone who
studies the health of populations by conducting massive studies
that combine information on people's genetic make-up, blood
biochemistry, lifestyle, and environment – and along with his
specialist team he’s at the top of his game.
When I asked
Professor Danesh what first set him on the path to epidemiology, he
emphasised the importance of mentors whose “world-embracing
vision of science”
inspired him early on in his career,
including our own BHF Professor Sir Rory
, his former PhD supervisor. He also stressed the
importance of his colleagues and team-mates - now and throughout
“I’m lucky to work with
excellent people who take advantage of a great
environment like the University of Cambridge, and make the most of
it. And I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to have mentored
outstanding individuals who have emerged as great scientists in
their own right.”
Professor Danesh's unit leads several major
research projects that are discovering new and reliable insights
about how to predict and prevent heart disease and
stroke. They achieve this through detailed studies of very
large numbers of people. Professor Danesh has established a study
that has collected detailed information on risk factors for
cardiovascular disease in over 2 million people in
130 different surveys in 25
countries, which has taken a decade to build.
Working on such a large scale at such a high
level of accuracy is like examining cardiovascular disease risk
factors through a sophisticated and powerful lens - a
Hubble telescope for the study of heart and
Our support will enable Professor Danesh’s
unit to develop new statistical tools to analyse data from such
large and detailed studies. Professor Danesh says:
“Our Unit's work is about integrative
cardiovascular science: trying to understand how best to predict
and prevent heart disease and strokes by understanding the separate
and combined effects on disease of genetic make-up, blood
biochemistry, and lifestyle factors.
“The support of a BHF Professorship
will accelerate these efforts by funding some of Europe's
brightest medical statisticians to develop and apply new methods,
allowing us to harvest further insights from the powerful studies
Improving organ failure rates
Gavin Murphy does what many of our professors do and
mixes heart research with honing skills in the
clinic – in this case as a heart surgeon. Drawn to
heart surgery because of the technical challenge, really getting to
understand how bodies work and how to fix them, and the constant
reward of a positive result unfolding before your
eyes, early mentors also impressed the importance of
research on him – encouraging him to develop his
interests in that area.
want to change the way people are treated for the better. My role
[as a BHF Professor] is to undertake research that changes
the way people think about medicine
– and improves the
lives of patients.”
The main research angle Professor Murphy is
looking to pursue during his time as a BHF Chair at the University
of Leicester is to find ways to reduce the threat of organ
failure in patients undergoing heart surgery. Patients
going under the knife can have a risk of organ failure – usually in
the heart, kidney or lungs – of up to 30 per cent.
And while organ failure isn’t necessarily fatal, it not only
markedly increases the risk of dying, but can also mean long
stays in hospital, increasing the risk of other complications.
“People are living for longer and while our
ability to operate on older patients is increasing all the time,
older patients are more likely to get organ failure. This funding
from the British Heart Foundation gives me the
support and infrastructure I need
to do high quality work, and be more ambitious in the type of
projects I get involved in.”
Part of Professor Murphy’s programme will
establish a series of clinical trials,
which patients will be selected for after they are referred for
With your support we can take on more of the
best cardiovascular scientists out there. Please help us continue
our life-saving work – donate now.