BHF’s attempt to distance itself from cruel animal experiments

Since we launched the latest phase of our Victims of Charity campaign, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has sought to distance itself from some of the cruel animal experiments that we have uncovered. Yet the charity’s evasiveness has made us all the more determined to expose its clear financial support for research that involves horrific animal suffering.

The denial began towards the end of 2013, when we uncovered a shocking experiment in which pregnant sheep had been surgically mutilated and their unborn lambs brain-damaged by repeated compression of the umbilical cord.[i] The scientific paper describing the experiment declared that it had been ‘supported by funding from’ the BHF.[ii] Yet when approached by a national newspaper journalist, the charity stated that it had not funded the research, but merely contributed to the equipment in the laboratory.[iii] We swiftly uncovered another experiment involving the same researcher (who has received more than £1million from the BHF).[iv] The scientific paper describing this second experiment said it had been carried out with ‘support’ from the BHF.[v] Pregnant sheep had again been surgically mutilated, but this time their unborn lambs had been partially suffocated by a ‘respiratory hood’ (essentially a bag) being placed over their mothers’ heads.[vi] This led to a major exposé in the Sunday Express, in which the BHF insisted that they had not funded the research, but were simply ‘one of the many general funders’ of the laboratory where it had been carried out.[vii]

A few months later, we uncovered a third experiment – an invasive study on pigs that involved them being deliberately given heart attacks, then subjected to several other cruel and destructive ‘procedures’ before they were killed.[viii] Once again, the experiment appeared to have the BHF’s fingerprints all over it, since the scientific paper declared that it had been ‘sponsored’ by the BHF, and cited a grant number.[ix] One respected scientific database stated that the study had received ‘funding’ from the charity, while another database cited ‘grant support’ from the BHF.[x] This time, the BHF narrowly escaped another highly embarrassing exposé in the national media by insisting that it had not funded the study directly.[xi]

Far from deterring us, this third instance of denial simply served to guide the next stage of our campaign. For illustrative purposes, we decided to examine the charity’s longer-term funding of one of the key researchers involved in the pig experiment – a high-profile Professor of Cardiology. What we uncovered was a catalogue of animal suffering, all supported by BHF grants and involving the high-profile professor.[xii] This included dogs having their hearts surgically stretched,[xiii] and goats being forced to endure weeks of disruption to their natural heart rhythms.[xiv] In another experiment, dogs were deliberately made to endure heart attacks by having their coronary arteries tied off.[xv] Two further studies involved rats[xvi] and guinea pigs[xvii] being killed so that their hearts could be removed and used for testing.

While we undertook the detailed research that was needed to uncover this suffering, the BHF was left grappling with rising pressure from campaigners and members of the public alike. Inspired by our campaign, grassroots activists have been co-ordinating nationwide days of action against the BHF’s funding of vivisection,[xviii] and last month the Anti-Vivisection Coalition revealed that the BHF had been funding appalling experiments on dogs in the Netherlands.[xix] This powerful exposé caused public outrage and was featured in the Sunday Express.[xx]

While the BHF insists that ‘openness’ is a top priority, our experience convinces us that this is far from the case. The BHF is keen to stress the alleged benefits of animal experimentation but fails to mention its serious scientific shortcomings. Over and over, animal data has been shown to lack relevance for human medicine – a point underlined by a British Medical Journal (BMJ) article published on May 30.[xxi] This set out the many deficiencies of the ‘animal model’ and formed the subject of a powerful editorial that also questioned the merits of using animals as human surrogates.[xxii] What the BHF does not willingly provide, moreover, are the raw details of what happens to animals who are used in research that it supports. In the absence of such information, we will continue to expose the suffering endured by these animals, and reiterate our call for the BHF to change its policy and fund only humane and reliable non-animal research.

You can read our full report into the BHF-supported experiments here.

Update: Read our response to the British Heart Foundation

[i] Kaandorp J, Derks J, Oudijk M et al (2013). Antenatal Allopurinol Reduces Hippocampal Brain Damage After Acute Birth Asphyxia in Late Gestation Fetal Sheep. Reproductive Sciences, June 2013

[ii] Ibid

[iii] The BHF’s chief executive made the statement in response to a request for comment from a national newspaper journalist. We have an email record of the statement.

[iv] The BHF’s Programme Grant Renewal of £1,165,872 to Professor Dino A. Giussani appears in its record of research grant awards given between 1 April 2011 – 31 March 2012:

[v] Kane AD, Herrera EA, Hansell JA et al (2012). Statin treatment depresses the fetal defence to acute hypoxia via increasing nitric oxide bioavailability. J Physiol. 2012 Jan 15;590 (Pt 2):323-34

[vi] Ibid

[viii] Tondato F, Robinson K, Cui J et al (2012). Effects on arrhythmogenesis and arrhythmic threshold of injection of autologous fibroblasts into myocardial infarcts in adult pigs. J Cardiovasc Transl Res. 2012 Jun;5(3):337-44

[ix] Ibid

[x] Europe PubMed Central states that the BHF has provided ‘funding’ for the experiment and includes a grant number

PubMed of the US National Institutes of Health states that the BHF has provided ‘grant support’ for the experiment (together with a grant number)

[xi] The BHF produced a detailed statement in response to a request for comment from a national newspaper journalist.

[xii] The BHF’s record of Research Grant Awards 2010/2011 indicates that the researcher has received a grant of more than £1million from the charity.

[xiii] Hussain W, Patel PM, Chowdhury RA et al (2010). The Renin-Angiotensin system mediates the effects of stretch on conduction velocity, connexin43 expression, and redistribution in intact ventricle. J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 2010 Nov;21(11):1276-83

[xiv] Hall MC, Kirubakaran S, Choudhury R et al (2010). Effects of angiotensin receptor blockade on atrial electrical remodelling and the ‘second factor’ in a goat burst-paced model of atrial fibrillation. J Renin Angiotensin Aldosterone Syst. 2010 Dec;11(4):222-33

[xv] Ciaccio EJ, Ashikaga H, Coromilas J et al (2014). Model of Bipolar Electrogram Fractionation and Conduction Block Associated with Activation Wavefront Direction at Infarct Border Zone Lateral Isthmus Boundaries. Circ Arrhythm Electrophysiol. 2014 Feb;7(1):152-63

[xvi] Ng FS, Shadi IT, Peters NS et al (2013). Selective heart rate reduction with ivabradine slows ischaemia-induced electrophysiological changes and reduces ischaemia-reperfusion-induced ventricular arrhythmias. J Mol Cell Cardiol. 2013 Jun;59:67-75

[xvii] Dhillon PS, Gray R, Kojodjojo P et al (2013). Relationship between gap-junctional conductance and conduction velocity in mammalian myocardium. Circ Arrhythm Electrophysiol. 2013 Dec;6(6):1208-14

[xviii] The group in question is the British Heartless Foundation:

[xxi] Pound P, Bracken MB (2014). Is animal research sufficiently evidence based to be a cornerstone of biomedical research? BMJ. 2014 May 30;348:g3387

[xxii] Godlee F (2014). How predictive and productive is animal research? BMJ. 2014;348:g3719


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