Research Excellence and Accelerator Awards

BHF-funded research is behind many of the advances that are giving people with heart and circulatory diseases longer, better lives. From uncovering what causes heart attacks, to developing the earliest clot-busting drugs to treat them, and the research that laid the foundations for using statins to prevent them - our research has saved or improved countless live. 

A researcher working in a lab

Despite this progress 420 people in the UK still die every day because of heart and circulatory diseases. By investing in research we are supporting scientists to make life-saving discoveries and have a worldwide impact on heart and circulatory disease research, so that we can prevent more deaths. 

Sometimes it takes more than a one-off project to find the answers. Which is why the BHF began the Research Excellence Awards. These awards now fund work in six of the UK’s leading universities. They started in 2008, investing £34 million into four research centres based at UK universities - University of Oxford, University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and King’s College London. 

The Research Excellence awards provide a pool of funding, enabling each recipient to become a world-class centre of cardiovascular research. The awards were so successful that in 2014 another £24 million was invested, and two more institutions were included - University of Glasgow and University of Cambridge. Now we’re committing another £28 million, taking the total spending to £86 million over 16 years, to fund the outstanding work at these centres. This has been made possible thanks to the incredible generosity of the charity’s loyal public supporters and fundraising volunteers across the UK. 

This round of Research Excellence Awards also included a new initiative - Accelerator Awards of £1 million each over 5 years, given to fuel six more universities to develop their cardiovascular research programmes to their full potential. This flexible funding will enable these promising institutions to take the next step towards internationally recognised research excellence. 

What makes the awards special? 

The Research Excellence Awards, and Accelerator Awards, allow experts from diverse fields to come together to tackle the biggest questions in heart and circulatory disease research. From biologists to engineers, clinicians to mathematicians: the varied perspectives and knowledge foster innovative, high-quality thinking. Rather than award money to a specific project (like most other funding awarded by the BHF), the Research Excellence and Accelerator Awards support more general work in research institutions. This flexible funding model means that the most innovative and inspirational research can rapidly get off the ground. The large injection of funds also enables these centres to become truly collaborative, and engage in the kind of multi-disciplinary work which will make the advances needed to beat heartbreak from so many different and inter-connected conditions.  

The awards will also secure the UK’s future as a world-leader in heart and circulatory disease research, by empowering our universities to attract and nurture the very best young doctors and scientists into the field, and encouraging the exploration of new ideas. 

The innovative research to have come out of the centres so far includes work done by Professor David Newby and his team in Edinburgh, who discovered that a simple scan could save thousands of lives each year, by improving the diagnosis of people coming to hospital with chest pains. Meanwhile Dr Mathilda Momersteeg and her team in Oxford, have been using fish genes to discover clues to heart regeneration. The substantial BHF investment in Research Excellence at these universities has developed programmes of cardiovascular research that have had impact worldwide - and will continue to do so.  

Our Centres of Research Excellence 

Each of the universities below has received a Research Excellence Award to undertake innovative science and break down boundaries in heart and circulatory disease research.   

  •   University of Cambridge – led by Professor Martin Bennett, the team will focus on vascular disease with research themes including vascular medicine by studying blood vessels, genomics and energy use in the heart and circulatory system. They’ll also use population sciences, studying large groups of people to look at all the factors which affect health outcomes, such as health care, social and economic factors, government policies and genetics. The University of Cambridge was awarded £6m between 2019 and 2024. 
  • University of Oxford – under the leadership of Professor Hugh Watkins, the group will work on subjects including big data, human genetics, discovery of new drug targets and heart development and regeneration. The University of Oxford was awarded £6m in the new round of funding. 
  • Kings College London – Professor Ajay Shah will lead the centre in its focus on prevention, diagnosis, prognosis and personalised therapy for heart failure. King’s College London has been awarded £6m.
  • Imperial College London – led by Professor Martin Wilkins, the team will work across a number of areas including cardiovascular engineering, imaging, genetics and genomics, population sciences, and artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to develop personalised healthcare. Imperial College London will receive £4m from the Research Excellence Awards between 2019 and 2024. 
  • University of Glasgow – under the leadership of Professor Rhian Touyz, investigators will explore how small blood vessels become damaged, inflamed and stiff and how this causes hypertension, stroke, dementia and heart disease. They will also use biomarkers, clinical trials and population science to understand, identify and treat heart failure.
  • University of Edinburgh – Professor Andrew Baker will lead the team in its scientific focus on diabetes and metabolic syndrome in cardiovascular disease, imaging damage to large blood vessels and valves and cardiovascular healthcare data science. The University of Edinburgh will receive £3m.  

Accelerator Awards 

These awards are for £1 million each over 5 years, and will encourage pioneering research of the highest calibre, potentially supporting applications for Research Excellence Awards in the future.  

  • University of Birmingham – Professor Paulus Kirchhof will lead the team in focussing on atrial fibrillation and thrombo-inflammation (when an inflammatory response leads to the formation of a thrombosis, or clot).  
  • University of Bristol – led by Professor Deborah Lawlor, the group will focus on two areas - identifying targets to slow cardiovascular disease, and understanding how cardiovascular disease develops across a life-span. 
  • University of Leicester – under the leadership of Professor Gavin Murphy, the group will focus on precision medicine, building on their research in areas including genomics, biomarker discovery, imaging, stroke medicine, vascular surgery and new cardiovascular interventions.  
  • University of Manchester – Professor Bernard Keavney will lead the team in its focus on integrative physiology with research areas including the development of the heart and circulatory system, congenital heart disease, irregular heart rhythms, heart failure high blood pressure and stroke.
  • Queen Mary University of London – led by Professor Federica Marelli-Berg, investigators will explore the way in which heart inflammation occurs and progresses.
  • University College London – under the leadership of Professor Aroon Hingorani, the team will focus on data science and computational biology (which uses biological data to develop mathematical models to understand biology). 

The difference that these awards make  

Professor Gavin Murphy

Describing the difference that this award will make to this team, Gavin Murphy of the University of Leicester, Said:  

“The BHF Accelerator provides discretionary funding to attract promising researchers at the beginning of their careers to Leicester where we will provide the resources, training, and mentorship to enable them to progress to independence. These research fellowships will also be strategic with an emphasis on interdisciplinarity and the requirement that the fellows develop key skills that are essential to the success of UK life sciences research over the coming decades.”