Research to mend broken hearts

A lab test

More than half a million people are affected by heart failure in the UK, most of which have permanent, irreversible damage to the way their heart pumps blood.

Treatments for heart failure patients

Heart failure normally affects people when they're older, but it can also affect young people. When your heart muscle is too weak to pump as efficiently as it should, heart failure can develop.

Until recently, doctors were helpless in the battle against heart failure. No medicines existed to improve the life expectancy of heart failure patients.

Now we're not only making breakthroughs in heart failure medicines, but we want to spend £50 million over the next few years to give hope to thousands of people affected by heart failure after a heart attack.

Treatment breakthroughs

With the help of British Heart Foundation funded research there have been some real breakthroughs, especially in the use of medicines called ACE inhibitors. 

BHF Professor Stephen Ball (now retired) and his team helped to prove the benefit of the ACE inhibitor drugs in patients with heart failure after a heart attack.

GPs now prescribe them as a matter of course for heart failure, and they usually lead to a substantial improvement in quality of life and outlook for patients.

Getting tested for heart failure used to be complicated for heart patients. Another breakthrough we funded means that in most cases we can now rule out heart failure with a simple blood test which looks for B-type natriuretic peptide, or 'BNP'.

The future

Stem cell research offers heart failure sufferers great hope for the future. Successfully harnessing them could mean our hearts will be able to repair themselves.

At present the only cure for severe heart failure is a heart transplant.

However, there is a limited supply of organs and such a major surgical procedure can be risky.

Our experts have been working on a theory that failing hearts have difficulty producing energy.

Professor Michael Frenneaux is investigating a medicine he hopes will reduce the burden of heart failure and relieve the symptoms.

In pilot studies, the treatment (called perhexiline) saw patients who could only walk slowly, for short distances and on flat ground walk at a reasonable pace for longer distances and even manage a flight of steps.

We've also funded researchers at Harefield Hospital who've investigated whether a mechanical device that takes over the work of the heart could help failing hearts. Working with patients who have dilated cardiomyopathy, their work could help us understand how to bring more hearts back from the brink.

Professor Paul Riley is involved in some fascinating research that's helping unravel how we might encourage heart cells to regenerate or replace damaged tissue.

And the BHF Centre of Research Excellence at Imperial College London is pioneering stem cell research in the UK, led by BHF Professor Michael Schneider and colleagues.

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