Professor Paul Riley

BHF Professor of Regenerative Medicine

University of Oxford

Paul Riley from Life-saving scienceLearning how to regenerate the heart after a heart attack was once considered science fiction. But BHF Professor Paul Riley is leading a dedicated team of scientists who are turning heart regeneration into a reality.

Working with the BHF Centre of Research Excellence

Based at UCL’s Institute of Child Health for over a decade, Paul has investigated how the heart develops in the embryo. But thanks to Paul’s BHF-funded role at the University of Oxford, he will now move to take advantage of our BHF Centre of Research Excellence.

Paul is working with other leading heart researchers at the Oxford Centre. This is helping him translate his lab research into medicines. This research is vital if we are to mend broken hearts and start to treat heart failure.

Can the heart repair itself?

Watch our video
Paul tells us about his most recent breakthrough in the lab.

Paul and his team demonstrated in mice that certain adult heart cells can be stimulated chemically to repair heart damage. The chemical, a protein called thymosin β4 (tβ4), helps specialist cells surrounding the heart move to the damaged area of the heart and turn into new heart muscle, helping the heart pump efficiently once more.

Now Professor Riley and his team want to learn more about the genetics behind how these special cells can turn into new heart tissue. Once Paul and his team know more about how the regenerative process works, they can find ways to replicate it effectively.

Future research

Making new heart muscle
Our scientists have created new heart muscle cells (red) that can join up with existing heart muscle (green).

Although tβ4 is exciting, there may be other molecules that could be more efficient at mending broken hearts. At Oxford the team are screening hundreds of thousands of small molecules to see if they can help heart regeneration. Oxford’s fantastic drug development facilities at the BHF-funded Target Discovery Institute are boosting this process.

Professor Riley’s research offers the hope that within a decade we will be able to teach damaged hearts to repair themselves so that we can help the UK’s 750,000 heart failure sufferers.

Further information