British Heart Foundation reveals shortlist for £30m research prize

Chloe Kent 23 January 2020 (Last Updated January 23rd, 2020 12:15)

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) today announced its shortlist of four research projects competing for a £30m reward as part of its Big Beat Challenge.

British Heart Foundation reveals shortlist for £30m research prize
The four shortlisted teams will now start work on full applications with a winner expected to be announced by the end of the year. Credit: Shutterstock

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) today announced its shortlist of four research projects competing for a £30m reward as part of its Big Beat Challenge.

The Big Beat Challenge offers a single research award of up to £30m to multi-disciplinary teams with a research proposal that has clear patient benefit that would only be possible with this kind of large-scale funding. The BHF received 75 applications from 40 countries.

British Heart Foundation medical director Professor Sir Nilesh Samani said: “This is high-risk, high-reward research. We whole-heartedly believe in the transformational potential of the Big Beat Challenge to save and improve lives, both here in the UK and around the world. It represents the single biggest investment in pioneering science in the BHF’s 60-year history.

“In an ideal world, we’d like to fund all four as each one has the chance to make a monumental impact.”

The four shortlisted teams will now start work on full applications with a winner expected to be announced by the end of the year. They have each been given a small amount of seed funding to use over the next six months to put together their applications.

The shortlist of research proposals features a robotic heart, a ‘Google map’ of atherosclerosis, a project harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) and wearables to create a cardiovascular digital twin of a patient, and a genetic cure for inherited heart conditions.

The robotic heart project, led by a cardiothoracic surgery team at the University of Amsterdam, is intended to consist of a soft robotic shell and wireless sensors to mimic the pumping of a natural heart. The research team’s vision is that this could replace the need for human heart transplantation and bypass the lengthy wait for an appropriate organ for those requiring transplant.

Meanwhile a team from the University of Cambridge is using cutting-edge technologies to build a Google maps-style 3D visualisation of human atherosclerosis – fatty deposits that develop in arteries – to gain understanding of how and why the immune defence system goes awry and causes disease.

A team at University Hospitals Leuven is working on a wearable device to capture more cardiac data than ever before. The data from this would be combined with a patient’s genetic and healthcare information to transform diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of heart and circulatory diseases through the creation of a digital twin.

Finally, researchers at the University of Oxford are working to develop a treatment that targets and silences the faulty genes responsible for cardiomyopathies, diseases of the heart muscle that can lead to sudden death or heart failure at a young age. The team aims to stop the progressive damage caused by genetic heart muscle diseases, potentially before it even begins.

Samani said: “The Big Beat Challenge embodies our ambition to turbo-charge progress and could lead to its own ‘man on the moon’ moment. I have absolutely no doubt the winning idea will define the decade in their area.”