The UK

When the BHF was established, cardiovascular disease was the cause of 51% of deaths in the UK.

1961

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The British Heart Foundation is born

Facing a national epidemic, with cardiovascular disease causing more than half of all deaths in the UK, concerned doctors joined forces with philanthropists to establish the British Heart Foundation. Together, they set out to answer some of the biggest mysteries of heart disease, such as what causes heart attacks.

1963

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Pacemaker pioneer

Dr Aubrey Leatham, who implanted the UK’s first internal pacemaker in 1961, was funded by the BHF in 1963 to improve the technology, pushing the boundaries towards today’s sophisticated and miniaturised pacemakers.

1964

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UK’s first Coronary Care Unit

Dr Desmond Julian (later appointed as a BHF Professor), who pioneered the concept of the coronary care unit, set up the first in the UK. This specialised hospital ward for intensive care of heart patients started a global revolution in heart patient care. In the first year of its operation, death rates in hospital following a heart attack were almost halved in Dr Julian’s unit. Today this is a standard set-up in all major hospitals.

1965

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First defibrillator in an ambulance

Dr Frank Pantridge received a BHF grant to use a portable defibrillator in an ambulance for the first time. This paved the way for a dramatic reduction in the amount of time people have to wait before receiving life saving treatment. We subsequently funded thousands of defibrillators for use in ambulances, which completely transformed how cardiac arrests are dealt with. Today all ambulances have a defibrillator, ready to treat over 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests that occur each year.

1967

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Revolutionising heart valve surgery

Surgeon Mr Donald Ross used BHF funding to devise the first successful surgical technique for replacing damaged heart valves. Now known as the 'Ross procedure', these techniques are used worldwide and have increased the life expectancy of people being treated by up to 20 years.

1968

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First UK heart transplant

Surgeon Mr Donald Ross performed the first UK heart transplant following five years of BHF-funded research into transplant surgery techniques. Today, around 200 transplants are carried out every year in the UK.

1976

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Heart attacks understood

Previously, heart attack victims were given bed rest and often their health declined rapidly thereafter due to lack of treatments. In the UK, 7 out of 10 heart attack victims did not survive. BHF Professor Michael Davies proved that heart attacks are caused by blood clots in the coronary artery, setting the stage for a revolution in life saving heart attack treatment.

See how this discovery saved Richard's life

86-95

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Reversing heart attack death rates

The BHF helped fund clinical trials, led by Professors Peter Sleight and Sir Rory Collins. They tested the effectiveness of beta-blockers, clot-busting drugs, aspirin and ACE inhibitors, which led to their use in heart attack treatment. These advances have transformed heart attack treatment worldwide and today 70% people survive a heart attack in the UK. 

1985

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The ‘switch’ procedure becomes commonplace to save newborn babies’ lives

BHF Professor Magdi Yacoub first developed the ‘switch’ procedure to correct abnormally connected blood vessels in babies in 1975. Since then he refined and developed the procedure which is now a global ‘gold standard’ and has significantly reduced the risk of infant death from congenital heart disease.

See how this discovery saved Rosco's life

1986

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Establishing a world-leading heart transplant centre

BHF Professor Magdi Yacoub established the first UK heart transplantation service at Harefield hospital in 1980.  He was appointed as BHF Professor in 1986, providing funds for him to carry out research to improve outcome, and Harefield has become a world leading heart transplant and research centre.  Professor Yacoub was knighted in 1992. The hospital has since been pioneering treatments such as the development of artificial hearts. 

1990

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Combating a hidden killer

With BHF funding Drs. Bill McKenna and Hugh Watkins (both subsequently appointed as BHF Professors) discovered faulty genes that cause the potentially fatal condition hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in families This led to the development of genetic tests to identify those at risk of sudden cardiac death and in need of life saving treatment. This work has enabled the Miles Frost Fund programme to be set up with the public’s support to identify thousands of families unknowingly living with this silent killer.

1995

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Cutting the nation’s heart disease risk

Two trials, led by BHF Professor Stuart Cobbe and Dr Rory Collins respectively, showed the life-saving benefit of statins. Now they are used to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in millions of people. And in the UK alone, they save more than 7,000 lives each year.

1996

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Improving quality of life for heart patients

16 cardiac nurse posts were funded for the first time, starting a network that now includes more than 3,000 BHF healthcare professionals, helping to improve the lives of thousands of people and their families.

2004

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Tackling one of the UK’s biggest killers

The Department of Health commissioned us to run a national anti-smoking campaign. Alongside this, we lobbied MPs and presented evidence to parliamentary groups that catalysed the movement towards the 2007 smoking ban in enclosed public places. Research has shown the ban is saving lives today and minimising the risk of harmful smoke exposure

2010

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Finding a deadly inheritance before it’s too late

The BHF launched genetic testing for potentially fatal familial hypercholesterolaemia after a lifetime of research by BHF Professor Steve Humphries helped find the genes responsible. The condition causes abnormally high levels of cholesterol to build up in the blood.  By providing a genetic test, now adopted in national clinical guidelines, thousands of people have been diagnosed and treated with statins to reduce their risk. 

2011 - 13

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The heart repairing itself

In 2007 with BHF funding Dr Paul Riley showed that heart cells can be activated to repair damage caused by a heart attack. This demonstrated the incredible potential of regenerative medicine and prompted our Mending Broken Hearts Appeal, which was used to appoint Dr Riley as BHF Professor of Regenerative Medicine in 2011 and head of one of the three new BHF Centres of Regenerative Medicine, to pioneer research into curing heart failure. One day, we hope this research will help millions of people across the world living with heart failure. 

2014

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Creating a Nation of Lifesavers

We announced our ambition to reduce death rates from cardiac arrest by starting a revolution in CPR training and defibrillator awareness. By early 2017 the scheme had trained more than 2.4 million people across the UK.

2015

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Doubling heart attack diagnosis in women

BHF researchers from Edinburgh discovered that a high-sensitivity blood test could double heart attack diagnosis in women, helping doctors give life saving treatment in the quickest possible time.

See how this discovery saved Jen's life

2015

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Stem cells shown to be safe for regenerative medicine

A BHF-funded PhD student working in Professor Roger Pedersen’s lab was able to demonstrate for the first time that human stem cells consistently form the correct adult cell types when implanted in living tissues and organs. This provided the strongest evidence yet that stem cells are safe to use in regenerative medicine and has the potential to propel heart failure therapies.

Today

This patch could save your life

Professor Philip Bath is carrying out a BHF-funded clinical trial to find out whether a simple adhesive patch that delivers a drug through the skin improves stroke outcome. It is applied to a patient's shoulder or back and administers a drug whilst a patient is travelling to hospital. The ability to start treating patients within an hour could revolutionise stroke treatment and lead to this technique being adopted worldwide.