Our Visit to the British Heart Foundation's Centre of Research Excellence

In June this year, members of the Startle team took part in a challenge to Kayak the Thames in aid of the British Heart Foundation. After paddling a gruelling 150 miles over 5 days - and what turned out to be the hottest week of the year - the team of novices succeeded in raising a staggering £13,000 for the charity!

Following such an incredible triumph, we were recently invited to a tour of the BHF’s Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Oxford. The centre here is part of a £58 million investment with the goal to “kick-start innovative research projects and attract and train world-class researchers from a multitude of backgrounds and fields”. Through an educational presentation by one of the charity’s project leaders, and an insightful tour of the facilities, we were able to see an example of where the money donated by generous Kayak the Thames supporters will go.

After a heart injury, a human’s heart cannot repair itself. The tissue is replaced by scar tissue that will not function properly, and this will have dramatic long-term effects. For example, having such damage to this essential organ will likely lead to heart failure, causing everyday physical activities to become very challenging. Once a person is diagnosed with heart failure, they will suffer for the rest of their life. However, this is not the case in all species.

The particular project we learnt about on our lab tour was a study into heart regeneration in fish. You may not know that some fish can repair their own damaged hearts in a matter of weeks. The zebrafish is a prime example of this, and due to their transparent skin in early life, they have been identified as a perfect subject for research.

Particular interest is taken into how the zebrafish’s heart is formed. By “switching off” their genes, scientists at the lab have been able to watch how the fish regrow their blood vessels in order to repair this damage. The aim here is to gain an understanding into how human processes could be similar; if scientists could “switch on” the right genes in humans, we could live longer and survive better after a heart injury.

By gaining a deeper understanding of the similarities and differences in fish and human hearts, scientists will be able to provide better treatment for humans suffering with heart conditions, and with someone in the UK being struck by a heart attack every 3 minutes, the importance of this research is undeniable.

Not only this, but sufferers of congenital heart disease - a condition babies can be diagnosed with whilst still in the womb - will often lead to heart failure in later life. With more scientific knowledge on this condition and its potential treatments, more children can go on to lead full, happy lives.

The study of fish and heart regeneration is just one of many projects that the British Heart Foundation funds, and these are crucial in finding cures and treatments for heart conditions that affect so many lives.

Donations are still being accepted on the Kayak the Thames fundraising page, so if you’d like to contribute to funding research just like this, click here to give to this fantastic cause.