Animals in research

Zebra fish We are dedicated to saving lives by funding research to develop better tests, treatments and cures for heart and circulatory conditions. 

Where there are no feasible alternatives, we fund research involving animals as part of a broad spectrum of science that ranges from laboratory studies to clinical trials in patient volunteers.

Funding animal research is not a decision we take lightly. However, we believe that funding this research is essential if we’re to make the discoveries that will improve and save the lives of the many people living with heart and circulatory disease.

To ensure we only fund animal research when absolutely necessary, we actively encourage our funded researchers to plan their studies so fewer animals are needed and look for other possible research methods. If that's not possible we require them to apply the highest standards to animal welfare.

The three Rs

All our grant applications go through an exhaustive independent peer review system when deciding which to fund. This makes sure that all BHF-funded scientists are following a clear set of principles – the three Rs – to reduce the number of animals and maximise their welfare:

  • replace with non-animal alternatives where possible
  • reduce the number of animals used
  • refine the care and attention of animals to achieve the highest welfare standards

When researchers we fund do carry out studies in animals, all work is done in line with strict Home Office guidelines.

Our research has led to life-saving medical advances for patients over the past half century. But there's so much work to be done and, for the foreseeable future, that will involve animal research.

Research involving animals

By studying new medicines and techniques in human cells in the lab first, and carefully trialling the best ones in animals, we’ve done all we can to make sure they’re going to be effective and safe for treating patients.

  • Researchers are studying how the heart develops in mice and fish to better understand what can go wrong to cause babies to be born with heart defect
  • Potential new heart medicines that work on human cells in the dish must be assessed in a living system before trials in patients can be carried out
  • Animal studies can reveal potential problems with new treatments allowing dangerous side effects to be spotted before clinical trials

The life-changing benefits of animal research are all around us

Professor Peter Weissberg
Our Medical Director

The research community is constantly developing new techniques to help reduce the number of animals needed or non-animal models. Scientists we fund carry out as much of their research as possible on human volunteers, cells, or computer models for example.

However, completely replacing all animals in research is not yet possible. There is no alternative method that can reproduce the complicated working of our hearts and circulatory systems.

A history of breakthroughs

  • 1961: The BHF begins its fight against heart and circulatory diseases
  • 1963: One of the BHF’s first grants goes to pacemaker research. The technology first developed with research involving animals, now helps millions
  • 1967: After several trials in animals the first human transplant takes place in South Africa
  • 1994: A huge BHF-backed trial of cholesterol-lowering statins begins. Its results led to wide of the drug, which was first developed with research involving animals such as rabbits
  • 2010: Research in mice leads to the BHF co-funding a trial of Losartan to prevent fatal aneurysms in people with the genetic disease Marfan’s Syndrome
  • 2011: Evidence from mouse and zebrafish research paves the way for a major BHF programme of regenerative medicine to find a cure for heart failure.   

But, for all the progress we've made, 7 million people in the UK are living with heart and circulatory diseases. We need more research to develop new treatments and help people live longer happier lives. And sometimes, we will need animal research to do this.

For more information please see our Animal and Heart Research leaflet or contact us.