Healing broken hearts top priority this Valentine’s Day for University of Nottingham researchers

Friday, 11 February 2022

The Biodiscovery Institute at the University of Nottingham and Animal Free Research UK have teamed up to develop cutting-edge human stem-cell technology to combat cardiac fibrosis - a major cause of heart failure in the UK affecting 900,000 people annually.

Dubbed the Mini Hearts Project, the research is being led by Professor Chris Denning and his team who are combining latest human-based lab technologies to understand how genetics and drugs interplay to create effective treatments for patients.

Professor Chris Denning said: “Patients with heart disease concurrent with cardiac fibrosis are 18 times more likely to be hospitalised and die. Yet despite decades of testing drugs on animals, there are no effective treatments or cures.

"Genetics and physiology between humans and animals greatly differ. For example, the heart of a mouse functions at 500 beats per minute while a human heart records 60-80 beats per minute. Yet cardiac fibrosis research remains reliant on animals."

Professor Chris Denning

Added Professor Denning: “There is a pressing need for new ways to study cardiac fibrosis. We need human systems to understand human disease and to test drugs that will be used in humans. A well-designed human-based model will overcome the limitations of existing approaches, including the use of animals and associated challenges of species differences, hence provide new opportunities for therapeutic development.”

The team are using “human induced pluripotent stem cells”, or “hiPSCs” for short, generated from a small piece of skin about the size of the head of a matchstick and donated by a patient with heart disease. Gene editing then allows the researchers to change the DNA sequencing with precision – even down to a single base of the 3 billion bases in the human genome.

This means they can repair or introduce damaging mutations in the hiPSCs - then turn them into heart cells and ask what impact this has on heart function.

Carla Owen, CEO of Animal Free Research UK, said: “We are proud to work in partnership with the University of Nottingham where exceptional staff and students are pushing boundaries to not only improve human health but replace the use of animals in research. Their remarkable research is set to heal broken hearts.”

I am very proud and excited that this innovative and ethical work, which combines the latest human-based lab technologies is being carried out in my constituency – and I look forward to seeing and learning first-hand how this research will potentially lead to effective treatments for the people of Nottingham and beyond.”
Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood

Animal Free Research UK funds pioneering research that saves humans and animals and is forging a future where animals are replaced with modern, human relevant techniques. With over 90 percent of new drugs tested on animals failing to benefit human health, the charity recognises that a transition to animal-free human-relevant technology will help position the UK as a science powerhouse. For more information visit

The University of Nottingham carries out important and world-leading research and recognises the vital role that research using animals can play in helping us to tackle important global health challenges in both human and veterinary medicine.

Whilst the complexity of human and animal biology can't always be replicated by alternative methods in the lab, the university uses as few animals as necessary and is committed to the principles of the 3Rs - Reduction, Refinement and Replacement.

The University works closely with a number of national organisations to support the discovery and application of new technologies and approaches to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals for scientific purposes. All the information about Nottingham’s use of animals for research is available on the University’s website -


Charlotte Anscombe - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Phone: 0115 748 4417

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

More news…

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798