New BHF investment to bolster world-class research at University of Leicester

The University of Leicester has received £1 million in funding from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to strengthen its world-class research into heart and circulatory diseases.

The University is one of only six institutions in the UK to be awarded with a BHF Accelerator Award, which encourages pioneering research of the highest calibre.

Under the leadership of Professor Gavin Murphy, BHF Professor of Cardiac Surgery in the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences and consultant cardiac surgeon at Leicester’s Hospitals, the funding will enable the University to focus on precision medicine, building on its research in areas including genomics, biomarker discovery, imaging, stroke medicine, vascular surgery and new cardiovascular interventions.

The BHF Accelerator Award, which provides funding for the next five years, is particularly designed to allow researchers to launch higher-risk research and to attract talent by offering start-up fellowships. This enables the most innovative, dynamic and inspirational research to rapidly get off the ground, without the need for new funding applications.

Professor Gavin Murphy 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.”

To mark the accolade, a special event was held on Tuesday 2 July at the City Rooms in Leicester.

Among the guests was Sophie O’Donnell, who has directly benefited from the surgery of Professor Murphy. In 2014, Sophie had a routine check-up with her cardiologist, where it was discovered she had an aneurysm the size of a golf ball in her aorta, the major blood vessel that runs from the heart and supplies blood to the whole body.

Sophie required surgery, but this was complicated as she has a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, which weakens her heart muscle. However, thanks to the work of Professor Murphy and the team at Leicester, the surgery at Glenfield Hospital was a success and Sophie is now able to live her life to the full.

Sophie, aged 40 and from Lutterworth, said: “I didn’t even know I had the aneurysm. But when I compare life to how it was before, it’s amazing. Now, I can walk fast, and now I can cycle and fly wherever I want. I never realised how unwell I was, but my recovery from the operation was really straightforward – and I put that down to Professor Murphy.

“The treatment I received was only made possible thanks to research. It’s fantastic to hear that the BHF Accelerator Award will lead to further life-saving research, as this could improve the lives of thousands of people like me.”

Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the BHF, said: “The flexible funding from the BHF Accelerator Award recognises the progress that has been made by researchers at the University of Leicester over the years. It usually takes more than a one-off project to answer the biggest questions in science, and this award seeks to inject further creativity into Leicester’s heart and circulatory disease research community and help foster collaboration between subject experts.

“This award will fuel the University of Leicester to develop research programmes to their full potential, and could result in the university becoming a BHF Centre of Research Excellence in the future.

“We are very proud and pleased to have made this award, which is only possible through the generosity of the public who support us.”