Cambridge heart research boosted by £6 million British Heart Foundation Research Excellence Award

Funding will allow Sanger Institute researchers and collaborators to apply cutting-edge genomics to help develop new heart disease diagnostics and treatments

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has announced that it will double its funding into world-leading heart disease research at the University of Cambridge’s BHF Centre of Research Excellence. The charity has awarded Cambridge a £6 million Research Excellence Award, so that it can expand and accelerate its pioneering work at the centre over the next five years.

This funding will enable the centre to focus innovative research into the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of circulatory disease. There will be a major focus on translating discoveries into clinical products, tools and applications, through partnerships with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

The centre, led by Professor Martin Bennett, BHF Professor of Cardiovascular Sciences, will bring together 32 world-leading basic and translational research groups across the University of Cambridge, Wellcome Sanger Institute, Babraham Institute and MRC Mitochondrial Biology, Biostatistics & Epidemiology Units.

The award also empowers the centre to recruit and train future research leaders and support the initial testing of innovations that will transform how heart and circulatory conditions are diagnosed and treated.

Cambridge was first awarded £3 million in 2014 as one of six BHF Research Excellence Centres. Since its first funding award, the centre has trained 16 researchers and provided pilot funding for more than 20 projects identifying new risk factors, developing disease models and testing potential treatments.

Successes at the centre so far include a large study that discovered variants in genes that control blood cell numbers and characteristics, which increase heart disease risk. This can provide vital knowledge to develop new life-saving treatments for heart disease and many other deadly conditions.An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the centre, were also able to create the first detailed map of genes that control circulating human proteins, which are direct targets of many drugs. This will improve understanding of a wide range of diseases, aid the development and safety testing of new drugs and redirect current drugs to different diseases.

The Centre will fund cutting-edge research across four multidisciplinary research themes, including Functional Genomics (led by Professor Nicole Soranzo), Cardio-metabolic Medicine (led by Professor Antonio Vidal-Puig), Population Sciences (led by Professor John Danesh), and Vascular Medicine (led by Professor Ziad Mallat), with the translation of discoveries led by Professor Ian Wilkinson.

“This new funding will greatly accelerate our research activities in cardiovascular disease, a major cause of death in the UK, leading to new discoveries, new diagnostic tools, and new medicines.

“The doubling of our budget also reflects the multidisciplinary excellence of the Cambridge research community, with major partnerships between the university, its affiliated research institutes and healthcare providers, and local industry.”

Professor Martin Bennett British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Sciences and leader of the BHF Centre of Research Excellence, Cambridge

Professor Nicole Soranzo, theme lead for Functional Genomics, will lead Centre activities at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

“This strategic partnership demonstrates the importance of applying big data and high throughput science to understand disease, helping clinicians embrace genomics as part of their clinical toolkit. The Sanger Institute will support the activities of the Centre for Research Excellence through their state-of-the-art genomic technologies, driving greater understanding of disease processes and informing clinical applications. Genomic data will be applied to not only help shorten the time needed to develop new drugs, but also to predict likely efficacy and side effects for vascular disease treatments.”

Professor Nicole Soranzofrom the Wellcome Sanger Institute and leader of the Functional Genomics research of the BHF Centre of Research Excellence, Cambridge

The BHF first launched the Research Excellence Awards in 2008. The charity has since invested £86 million in universities across the country, in order to strengthen the UK’s position among world-leaders in heart research.

“It usually takes more than a one-off project to answer the biggest questions in science. The flexible funding offered by these awards breaks down scientific barriers and injects creativity into the UK’s heart and circulatory disease research community.

“Our investment through these awards will bring together the best and brightest minds across medicine, technology and engineering to foster collaboration and encourage innovative thinking.

“We are very proud and pleased to have made the awards which are only possible through the generosity of the public who support us. The awards not only recognise the world-leading research already being carried out in heart and circulatory diseases in the UK, but also help to safeguard our future as a global scientific leader in this area.”

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation

More information

Selected websites

  • About the British Heart Foundation

    One in four of us in the UK and one in three globally die from heart and circulatory diseases. That’s why the British Heart Foundation funds world-leading research into their causes, prevention, treatment and cure. Advances from our research have saved and improved millions of lives, but heart diseases, stroke, vascular dementia and their risk factors such as diabetes still cause heartbreak on every street. With the public’s support, our funding will drive the new discoveries to end that heartbreak. Find out more at

  • BHF Centre of Research Excellence, Cambridge

    The overarching aim of the Centre is to advance understanding of cardiovascular conditions by applying our combined expertise in generating assumption-free approaches. The Centre provides a focus for cardiovascular researchers in Cambridge and strengthens internal collaborations through funding for studentships, fellowships, and pilot projects. For more, see:

  • Wellcome Sanger Institute

    The Wellcome Sanger Institute is one of the world’s leading genome centres.

    Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower medical science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease.

    Find out more at or follow @sangerinstitute on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and on our Blog.