Research breakthroughs

One of our researchers, Rhian Touyz, looking through a microscope in her laboratory.

In 1961, the year the BHF was formed, cardiovascular disease accounted for over half of all deaths in the UK.  Surprisingly little was known about heart disease, or possible ways of treating it. 

Understanding and treating heart attacks

Before the 1970s heart attacks were poorly understood, but this changed when our groundbreaking study showed that heart attacks are caused by a blood clot in a coronary artery. We funded the development and use of clot-busting drugs and proved their effectiveness in treating heart attacks, setting the stage for their widespread use across the globe, saving numerous lives


Our research since the 80's has showed that giving statins to people with high cholesterol levels or those at high risk, is a safe and effective way of reducing their risk of heart attack or stroke. Statins are now the most commonly prescribed drug given to those at risk of developing heart disease and are estimated to save over 7,000 lives in the UK each year

Saving the lives of babies born with heart defects

When the BHF was formed, 8 in 10 babies born with a congenital heart defect didn’t survive to see their first birthday. But BHF-funded surgeons and researchers have helped transform the treatment of these conditions. In the 1970s BHF Professor Magdi Yacoub pioneered a surgical technique to correct a defect in which a baby’s major blood vessels are attached to the wrong chambers of the heart. This 'switch' procedure is now used routinely around the world.Thanks to the work of pioneering BHF scientists, today 8 in 10 babies born with congenital heart conditions survive to adulthood.

Genetic breakthroughs

BHF Professor Steve Humphries spent 30 years identifying the genes that cause familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) – a condition that causes abnormally high cholesterol and can lead to a heart attack at a very young age.

We are currently funding a FH genetic testing service and have already diagnosed thousands of people and children as young as 10, who have gone on to receiving lifesaving treatment. 

BHF Professors Hugh Watkins and Bill McKenna discovered many of the faulty genes that can lead to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – a condition that can lead to the sudden death of a seemingly healthy young person. Through the Miles Frost Fund, we are supporting genetic testing so more lives can be saved. 

There is more to do

Thanks to the generosity of our donors we are now able to fund around £100 million of first class research each year. We currently fund three Centres of Regenerative Medicine, created to find novel ways to heal hearts after heart attack. We cannot continue the fight for every heartbeat successfully without the support of the public.   

 Browse timelines of research into heart attacks and inherited conditions


The scale of heart and circulatory disease