Mending Broken Hearts

Professor Peter Weissberg

Our Mending Broken Hearts Appeal is funding research that may one day allow the heart to repair itself and end the suffering of hundreds of thousands of heart failure patients. Sarah Kidner talks to the former Medical Director of the BHF Professor Peter Weissberg about the appeal research.

Peter Weissberg is an Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital where he was Director of Cardiology for 13 years. In 1994, he was appointed BHF Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine in Cambridge, where his research focused on the cell and molecular biology of atherosclerosis, which is the major cause of heart attacks and strokes. He says he gets “a buzz from visiting the labs that we fund, witnessing our research and seeing the impact that it has on patient care”.

What exactly is the Mending Broken Hearts Appeal?

It’s a fundraising appeal that will enable us to pay for research into cardiovascular regenerative medicine. This field of medicine aims to try and repair the damage caused by a heart attack. Scientists are testing multiple approaches to try and repair and replace heart muscle damaged as the result of a heart attack.

What sort of approaches are we talking about?

"Some people think that the fight against heart disease is a ‘job done’ and yet there are still more people dying of coronary heart disease than anything else"

One option is to take cells from the blood or bone marrow and, in the laboratory, convert those into heart cells. We can then give them back to the patient so those cells can repair their damaged heart.

There’s also growing recognition that there may be some cells in the heart that are able to repair a tiny amount of damage, but they can’t replace the hundreds of thousands of cells damaged by a heart attack without some help. It may be that we can wake those cells up. Or you may have to create a piece of heart muscle in the laboratory, formed by a scaffold or ‘cell matrix’ (the material in between the cells), populate this with new cells and sew it in as a patch to replace the damaged area. Money from the BHF is the lifeblood of many of these projects.

How much money do we need to fund this life-saving research?

So far, we’ve raised more than £10m through the Mending Broken Hearts Appeal, but we need more, tens of millions more. This is in addition to our routine funding into cardiovascular research; we’re not taking money away from that. It’s a hard message to get across. Some people think that the fight against heart disease is a ‘job done’ and yet there are still more people dying of coronary heart disease than anything else. More people are surviving thanks to previous BHF-funded research, but many will have a second heart attack. The cumulative damage may cause irreversible heart failure.

Heart failure can be frightening and can cause prolonged suffering. The groundbreaking research supported by the Mending Broken Hearts Appeal is giving those with heart failure, and their families, hope for a cure.

This is a long-term appeal; it may take five years or 15 years. But as long as we can keep generating funds for research, we’ll succeed.

You sound fairly confident that we will succeed…

"Thanks to BHF-funded research, our understanding of what triggers heart attacks has massively improved"

Thanks to BHF-funded research, our understanding of what triggers heart attacks has massively improved. This has led to the development of clot-busting drugs by the pharmaceuticals industry and big clinical trials on treatments for heart attacks, again funded largely by the BHF. We’ve funded research that has established the role of drugs like aspirin and ACE inhibitors that help to prevent a second heart attack. Also, BHF-funded research showed that statins can prevent heart attacks in patients at high risk.

The UK has some of the world’s leading scientists in the field of regenerative medicine; all they need is sufficient funding. Already, we’ve appointed two professors working on regenerative medicine, Michael Schneider at Imperial College London and Paul Riley at the University of Oxford, and we’ve funded a laboratory in Edinburgh at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine.

How will we be able to tell that it was money well spent?

The ultimate mark of success is whether our research is able to contribute to the development of a new treatment that repairs a damaged heart. It would be nice to think that BHF-funded research came up with the whole answer but the reality of science is that, very often, it’s a combination of lots of different research groups that come up with this. As soon as that picture starts to emerge, the BHF is well placed to start early clinical trials, provided we have the funds.

Mending Broken Hearts: five ways to give

Volunteer collecting donations1. Sponsor hope for just £4 a month

Sponsor our BHF-funded scientists on their journey towards a cure for heart failure. Sign up here to be a hope sponsor or call 0300 330 3322.

2. Give what you can

Just £11 could fund a day’s worth of vital equipment for our busy team of scientists. To make a donation, please fill out our donation form or call 0300 330 3322.

3. Play the Hope Lottery

Be in with the chance of winning some amazing prizes as you support the research that could find a cure for heart failure. Visit the Hope Lottery page or call 01524 752 050 to join.

4. Organise a fundraising event

From a sponsored walk to a cake sale or karaoke evening, there are many ways that you can have fun and raise funds. Read our tips and tools to help you fundraise or call 0300 330 3322 for more information about getting involved and to order your free fundraising pack.

5. Wear it with pride

Visit your local BHF shop today to show your support for our Mending Broken Hearts Appeal. Our exclusive pin badge, with a Swarovski Element (price £2), is raising vital funds and is bringing hope to millions of heart failure patients worldwide.

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