Treatments: drugs, stents and surgery

An image of surgeons carrying out heart surgery

Drugs, stents and surgical techniques have all saved millions of lives thanks in part to research funded by us over the past 50 years.

Drugs

Large-scale research studies led by scientists we funded, and involving tens of thousands of patients, proved that a combination of two medicines given soon after a heart attack or stroke saves lives. 

The combination of aspirin and the clot buster streptokinase reduced deaths among heart attack patients by around 40 per cent.

an image of a packet of ACE inhibitors, drugs used for high blood pressure and heart failure

We funded BHF Prof Stephen Ball who showed that angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors can improve outcomes in people with heart failure after a heart attack. They are now commonly used to treat heart failure and high blood pressure and are often given to people following a heart attack.

GPs now prescribe them as a matter of course for heart failure, and they usually substantially improve quality of life and outlook for patients.

We funded studies which have shown that statins can prevent heart attack and stroke.

Statins are now thought to save around 10,000 lives a year in England alone.

Stents

Coronary angioplasty is a procedure which was developed to treat narrowed arteries, by using a balloon to stretch open the vessels.

The 1990s saw the arrival of stenting, a procedure in which a metal tube is left in the artery following balloon inflation (angioplasty). This ensures that the vessel stays open for longer. Such is the success of stenting that it is now performed in around 92 per cent of all patients undergoing angioplasty in the UK.

We are still looking for ways to improve stents. Dr Janet Chamberlain from the University of Sheffield has been looking at using carbon-monoxide-releasing molecules to improve the success of stent treatment. 

Surgery

For some people with heart and circulatory disease, surgery is the best, or only, treatment option available.

In the 1970s, along with the Wellcome Trust, we funded a team from St Thomas’ Hospital to develop a way to help protect the heart during a heart operation, whereA flask half-filled with transparent red liquid surgeons deliberately stop the heart from beating (called cardioplegia) so they can operate safely. The team developed an improved cardioplegic solution, which is injected into the heart to restart it after the operation. This solution has been used in operating theatres around the world and helped thousands of hearts recover from surgery.

Pioneering research by Professors Sir Magdi Yacoub and Sir Terence English in the 1980s played a big part in making the heart transplant a surgical success story.

Heart transplantation has been carried out for decades. But the medicines which transplant patients must take to ensure that their immune system doesn’t reject their new heart can leave them vulnerable to illness. We are funding projects aiming to reveal how we can stop the rejection, and help patients stay healthy for longer. 

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.

Donate