Our research into stroke

Illustration of stroke

Every day 640 people go to hospital because of a stroke. The condition causes 40,000 deaths in the UK each year. 

Thanks to our supporters we are the UK’s major independent funder of cardiovascular research, which includes vital stroke research.

A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. This usually occurs as a result of a blockage in an artery, and can cause brain cells to become damaged or die.

Atrial fibrillation and stroke

Until detailed studies in the 1980s, it was not known that an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation (AF) is a major cause of strokes. 

Current understanding is that blood pools in the heart as a result of the heart chambers not beating properly. This blood then clots inside the heart chambers and can escape and be swept up to the brain, blocking the brain’s blood supply.

Late BHF Professor Ronnie Campbell led a team that developed a technique to treat AF called radio-frequency ablation. Ablation uses radio waves to destroy the faulty heart tissue that causes AF – it is now a well-tested, routine procedure that can successfully treat some people with AF and lower their risk of stroke.

Ongoing research

We are funding research to help us understand the precise mechanism of AF and how this can progress to cause a stroke.

It is estimated that a fifth of strokes are caused by AF. Thanks to BHF-funded research into ablation, some of these strokes can now be prevented.

Stroke and dementia

We are funding researchers at the University of Cambridge to find out the genetic causes of lacunar stroke – a type of stroke affecting up to 35,000 people in the UK each year.

A lacunar stroke is caused by damage to one of the small vessels deep within the brain that affects the flow of blood and can lead to long-term disability. Lacunar stroke accounts for around one in five strokes and researchers also believe this type of stroke could be an underlying cause of nearly half of dementias. 

By understanding the genetic causes of lacunar strokes the researchers hope to be able to find new ways to both treat the disease and reduce a person’s risk of suffering from it.

Better treatments for strokes

Clot busting treatments given in the first few hours after a stroke greatly improve recovery. 

In collaboration with the Stroke Association, we are funding a clinical trial to find out if a new clot-busting drug, called tenecteplase, is more effective and has fewer side-effects than the current treatment.

If the researchers, at the University of Glasgow find that tenecteplase is a better clot-busting treatment, this could reduce disability and loss of independence after a stroke.

Using a skin patch to improve outcomes

A patch, which is cheap and readily available, could be a simple new way for paramedics to routinely treat patients in an ambulance following a suspected stroke.

Professor Philip Bath and colleagues at the University of Nottingham are being funded by us to carry out a large clinical trial to see if using the skin patch to administer a drug called glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) within 4 hours of having a stroke can improve outcomes. 

This research could change the way we treat people who have had a stroke and improve outcomes for people like Ken.

Support our research

Your donations help us to fund scientists like BHF Professor John Danesh who heads up a 350 strong team who are working together to study cardiovascular disease in people around the world, advancing our understanding of how nature and nurture work together in causing heart disease and strokes.