Heart failure

Green and red heart cells seen under a microscope

In the 1960s there were no known medicines to improve your life expectancy if you were diagnosed with heart failure.

Today 70 per cent of people survive a heart attack, but this means increasing numbers are living with a broken heart.

Having heart failure means that for some reason your heart is not pumping blood around the body as well as it used to. 

The most common reason is that your heart muscle has been damaged, for example after a heart attack.

Since the BHF started in 1961 we have made breakthroughs in heart failure medicines like ACE inhibitors, but we need more money to help us invest in vital research so that we can mend broken hearts

An ACE breakthrough

BHF Prof Stephen Ball helped to show that medicines called angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors can improve outcomes in people with heart failure after a heart attack.

Doctors now prescribe ACE inhibitors as a matter of course for heart failure, and they usually substantially improve quality of life.

In the past, if someone was suspected of having heart failure, confirming the diagnosis was complicated. But another breakthrough we funded means that in many cases we can now rule out heart failure with a blood test which looks for a molecule called B-type natriuretic peptide, or 'BNP'

When the heart is stressed, it releases BNP into the blood, indicating possible heart failure. However other conditions can also raise BNP levels, and must be considered when conducting further testing for heart failure.

At present the only cure for severe heart failure is a heart transplant. The supply of organs is limited and major surgical procedures on very ill people are risky. We must find an alternative.

Ongoing research

BHF-funded researchers have been working on a theory that failing hearts have difficulty producing energy. Professor Michael Frenneaux is investigating a medicine that improves the way the heart generates energy to see if it will help failing hearts. 

In early 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.

Twenty years ago, the idea that a heart could repair itself, so called regenerative medicine, seemed like science fiction but, through the work of BHF-funded researchers, it’s fast becoming a reality. 

Mending Broken Hearts

Our Mending Broken Hearts Appeal is dedicated to finding a cure for heart failure through regenerative medicine research at three major UK Centres

Stem cells are immature cells that can keep multiplying to produce more cells and can grow into specialised cells like nerve cells, brain cells or heart cells. 

New BHF-funded research offers people with heart failure great hope for the future because successfully harnessing the power of stem cells could mean hearts would be able to repair themselves. 

BHF Professor Paul Riley heads up the Oxbridge Centre of Regenerative Medicine – he is working to find out how we can encourage heart cells to regenerate or replace damaged heart muscle. 

His team have shown for the first time that the body’s lymphatic system, which is responsible for transporting white blood cells around the body to fight infection and injury, plays a vital role in helping the heart repair itself after a heart attack.

The BHF Scotland Centre of Regenerative Medicine is led by BHF Professor David Newby and is focused on finding ways to grow new blood vessels to replace those damaged by a heart attack.

Professor Sian Harding, head of the BHFs London Centre of Regenerative Medicine, is working alongside other leading scientists in the quest to mend broken hearts.

They are developing ways of growing patches of heart tissue from stem cells that could be used to repair damaged hearts.

Support heart research

This research was only possible through generous donations from the public, but there is still lots of work to do in the fight for every heartbeat. Please continue to support our Mending Broken Hearts Appeal to help us find a cure for heart failure.