BHF: Continuing Vital Research and Investing in NI’s Economy

Research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) over the past six decades has turned ideas that once sounded like science fiction into treatments that save lives every day.

he work of the heart research charity has helped to halve the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease. BHF-funded science has contributed to a series of important discoveries, including the UK’s first heart transplant, pacemakers, the use of anti-clot drugs to treat heart attacks and the roll-out of genetic testing for hereditary heart diseases.

But it’s also a key driver for our wider economy here, as well as for building relationships with the business community.

And the economic contribution of BHF cannot be underestimated. A recent study from the Fraser of Allander Institute underscores this, Fearghal says.

“There is a huge economic impact. Charities funded £16m of medical research in Northern Ireland in 2019. This supported 500 jobs, £39m in production and £26m in GVA (gross value added).

“And for every £1 million spent on medical research by charities here, it generates £1.63 million for Northern Ireland’s economy, putting it ahead of industries like construction and retail.

“Without charitable funding, the public sector would therefore have to increase its direct funding for health-related research in Northern Ireland by around 51% to cover the shortfall.

“We are harnessing the power of science to fight the world’s biggest killers, while investing in the local economy.”

In the 1960s, when the BHF was founded, seven out of 10 heart attacks in the UK were fatal. Now, thanks in part to research that the public helped fund, at least seven out of 10 people survive. Northern Ireland’s place is clearly on the map in terms of breakthroughs in medical research.

Hailing from Hillsborough, Professor Frank Partridge developed the first mobile defibrillator – a device that has saved countless lives around the world.

And some of Northern Ireland’s best researchers continue this work today.

“We’ve been doing research for over 60 years, and it’s been successful in halving the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease – that’s a huge thing,” Fearghal says.

“Here in Northern Ireland, we have funded Professor Andriana Margariti and her team at Queen’s University who have discovered a gene that increases the risk of blood vessel damage in people with diabetes. Turning off this gene could help people with diabetes live longer, healthier lives.

“And last month, with funding from the BHF, Dr. Karla O’Neill began research that will help us get closer to creating treatments that can restore the body’s ability to grow new blood vessels (angiogenesis) in people with heart and circulatory diseases.

“But heart disease remains one of the biggest killers in Northern Ireland, and many families across Northern Ireland are waiting for the next medical breakthrough, which is why every donation, every corporate partnership with BHF helps us get closer to discovering new treatments and cures.

“We know that the depth and breadth of our research is truly doing wonderful things in terms of life-saving work.”

Northern Ireland has a thriving health and life sciences sector, and the Department of Economy’s 10X economic vision places the life sciences and health sector, which employs over 8 500 people in Northern Ireland, at the forefront of economic recovery.

“Collaboration between researchers, industry, charities, the healthcare system and government is essential to ensure we have a thriving research environment to find the medical treatments of the future.

Fearghal said the charity relies on public support to carry out its rescue work. He said they were particularly keen to hear from local businesses that might want to support not only medical research, but also boost the economy in which they live and work.

“Research funded by charities and paid for by public donations can play a pivotal role in helping us recover economically from the effects of the pandemic.

“When you support the BHF, you are not only fueling top-level medical research or our work to bring CPR training to post-primary schools in Northern Ireland, you are investing in your local economy, fueling jobs and make here an even better place to live and work.”

The BHF does not just fund medical research. The charity also has an ambitious goal of tripling the number of people who survive cardiac arrest across the UK. The charity pursues this goal in Northern Ireland. After a long campaign, in March 2022 the Minister of Education legislated that CPR training and defibrillator awareness become a compulsory part of the post-primary school curriculum.

They have also funded the development of The Circuit – The National Defibrillator Network – a database that connects defibrillators to NHS ambulance services across the UK, so that at those crucial times when someone makes a cardiac arrest, they can be accessed quickly to help more people survive.

“Each year in Northern Ireland, around 1,400 people go into cardiac arrest outside of hospital, but less than one in 10 people survive. Every second counts when someone goes into cardiac arrest and, alongside In CPR, prompt use of a defibrillator is essential to give him the best chance of survival.To put it simply, knowing where the nearest defibrillator is is the difference between life and death.

“By mapping all these defibrillators and training more people in CPR skills, we are making huge strides towards achieving our ambition.

“But we can’t do any of our work without public support. We are especially keen to hear from local businesses and can tailor a mutually beneficial partnership where there are many ways to fit your organization and goals.

To contact Fearghal McKinney, email [email protected] To find out more about BHF research, visit

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