Where your money goes — BHF Professors

BHF Professor Hugh Watkins with his team at the University of Oxford

One of the questions we get asked most frequently is ‘where do you spend your money?’ Here’s one of the ways your donations help us get the best work from our heart scientists.

Our investments

Our biggest investment is in research into heart and circulatory diseases. Last year we gave over £84 million of your donations to scientists who are working out exactly how our heart and circulatory systems work; how to reduce damage from heart attacks; and how to combat heart disease. And because we’re a charity and accountable to you, we don’t just give the money away to anyone — we want to fund the best of the best.

We fund scientists at all stages in their careers, and at the top of the pile are our BHF Professors — affectionately called our ‘Profs’.

So how do you get to be a BHF Prof?

According to our senior research adviser Dr Shannon Amoils, these talented people are the most dedicated researchers who also mentor future generations of the many scientists working on the heart.

Shannon says: “They go through a rigorous selection process. Their work is examined in minute detail by our committees, and experts from all over the world are brought in to cast light on the quality of their work and their international standing.”

BHF Professor Barbara Casadei works on atrial fibrillation, one of the most common forms of abnormal heart rhythm and a major cause of strokes

What kind of scientist do you have to be?

When you think of a heart scientist, what comes to mind? Perhaps you see someone in a white lab coat, testing pills or injections, or a heart surgeon in blue scrubs and mask, working out new ways to make your heart bypass more effective.
The truth is that each of our 34 BHF Profs represents quite different areas of heart science. To us, although arteries, pacemakers and pills are part of what our researchers are working on, unlocking the mysteries of the heart is about so much more.

Some of the secrets of the heart are locked deep in our genetic code. Genes can make your more likely to get heart disease, or your children might be more at risk of being born with congenital heart disease. And our bodies hold more mysteries our scientists are looking to solve. By using ever-more sophisticated microscopes to scrutinize the proteins and cells we’re made of, they’re trying to work out where and why they can go wrong, and how to fix them or stop them going wrong in the first place.

Still more scientists are looking at the risk of heart disease in the public at large. Surveying thousands of people and crunching billions of numbers over the decades, they’re able to work out what whole populations can do to help lower their risk. We even have scientists looking at how our state of mind can affect our heart and the way blood moves around the body.

Fighting transplant rejection

Professor Federica Marelli-Berg in her laboratory in Queen Mary University of London

One of our newest BHF Professors — Professor Federica Marelli-Berg, is working hard with her team at Queen Mary University of London to fight transplant rejection by studying the role that inflammation plays in cardiovascular disease.

Professor Marelli-Berg’s programme focuses on T-cells, a type of white blood cell which are essential for the immune response. However, these cells also cause inflammation, which can be detrimental to a number of cardiovascular diseases. T-cells are part-responsible for heart transplant rejections, which occurs when the body’s immune system recognises the new organ and attacks it, just as it would an infection.

The London-based team aim to find a new way to stop T-cells from infiltrating heart tissue and hope to be able to prevent transplanted hearts from being rejected.

To read more about the research we fund and how we are helping people with heart disease, see here.