normal healthy human heart has a regular beat. The beat is set by
the heart’s natural pacemaker, which sends regular
electrical impulses throughout the heart muscle to
co-ordinate a contraction - the heartbeat.
In some heart conditions these electrical impulses are delayed or blocked. This is usually caused by
heart disease or ageing of the heart. People with irregular
heartbeats may need an artificial cardiac pacemaker to help maintain their heartbeat.
Research we supported has contributed to advances that
have given thousands of UK patients a pacemaker. Pacemakers are now
fitted in a routine procedure under local anaesthetic.
The first pacemakers
Early pacemakers were bulky and cumbersome, requiring a
traumatic operation to open the chest in order to sew electrodes
directly onto the surface of the heart.
In the 1960s, we supported a pioneering group of
researchers at the forefront of heart pacing research at St
George’s Hospital in London.
The research team led by Dr Aubrey Leatham and
chief technician Geoff Davies revolutionised
pacemaker technology. Their work, and the work of
scientists around the world, has paved the way for the
miniature, sophisticated pacemaker devices that we use today.
Pacemaker technology continues to evolve. Cardiologists are
undertaking more BHF-funded studies to improve and refine heart
pacing for people with permanent pacemakers.
We also fund a range of research projects which seek to
understand the causes and effects of abnormal heart rhythms. This
will help some future heart patients avoid the need for a
pacemaker, and ensure that artificial pacing is optimised for
Our Professors John Camm, David Eisner and Alan
Williams are at the forefront of heart rhythm research.
Support heart research
We need your donations to help us
fund more cutting-edge heart research.