Our successes in circulatory condition research

Our impact

Veins, arteries, and capillaries form a vital network, carrying blood to and from every part of our body. Conditions that affect this network can cause life-changing and life-threatening health problems - from aneurysms to deep vein thrombosis.

We fund research projects into circulatory conditions, ranging from molecular-scale studies to clinical trials of treatments. All share common end goals - to improve the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of these conditions.

The clues already discovered by BHF-funded research have built a clearer picture of circulatory conditions, and will contribute to medical advances that benefit people in the UK and around the world.

Here are two examples of our past work into circulatory conditions.

Stopping aneurysms before they start

Each year in England and Wales around 3,000 people die due to rupture of the aorta - the main artery from the heart, and the largest artery in the body. Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is when the artery wall weakens, swelling like a balloon that can be at the risk of rupture. Ultrasound screening to measure the width of the vessel is done to predict who’s most at risk. However, this is a fairly rudimentary measure, as some aneurysms don’t cause problems, while others that look unthreatening could be dangerous.

Researchers in Edinburgh, led by BHF Professor David Newby, used a cutting-edge MRI scanner to conduct research into a better way to predict who’s at risk from AAA. With BHF funding they ran a pilot study to see if they could detect inflammation in the swollen aorta – a marker that might point to the most volatile cases. This study of 29 people did appear to detect those with rapidly progressing aortic swelling. It also paved the way for a larger clinical trial of MRI-led diagnosis of AAA, to help guide how high-risk patients are found and supported in the future.

Read more about BHF research into AAA.

Helping patients breathe easier

Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a rare but life-threatening disorder of high blood pressure in the arteries that supply the lungs, causing breathlessness. The condition affects more women than men and there is currently no cure.

The most common cause of inherited cases of PAH are variations in a gene called BMPR2. BHF Professor Nick Morrell and colleagues at the University of Cambridge investigated how this gene causes the condition. They were the first to show how alterations in BMPR2 cause faulty signals in cells lining the lung blood vessels, so the normal growth and survival of these cells becomes impaired. This work has led to his major programme of BHF-funded research, to investigate whether treatment with normal BMPR2 could be a future cure.

Following another line of inquiry with BHF funding, Professor Martin Wilkins at Imperial College London was among the first to prove iron deficiency is common in people with PAH, and that this may be due to poor absorption of iron from the gut. We funded Professor Wilkins and colleagues to trial iron replacement therapy in people with PAH. The small study found intravenous iron therapy improved quality of life and exercise tolerance in patients. Today, thanks in part to Professor Wilkins’ work, doctors’ guidelines for treating PAH now suggest that iron replacement should be considered.

Read more about our research into PAH.

More lives left to save

From dangerous deep vein thrombosis, to pre-eclampsia that threatens pregnant women and their unborn babies, we continue to invest millions in research into circulatory conditions.

With your support, we’ll work to develop diagnostics and track down treatments to save and improve lives affected by all circulatory conditions across the UK, and beyond.

Find out about our research into circulatory conditions