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AF guidelines may drive stroke research funding

The amount of government money pumped into dementia and stroke research in the UK has risen significantly in recent years, but it is still far too low when compared with spending on heart disease and cancer, according to a study published recently in the online journal BMJ Open.1

The authors identified UK governmental agencies and charities providing health research funding to determine the 2012 levels of funding for cancer, coronary heart disease (CHD), dementia and stroke. Levels of research funding were compared to burden of disease measures, including prevalence, disability adjusted life years and economic burden.

The combined research funding into cancer, CHD, dementia and stroke by governmental and charity organisations in 2012 was £856 million, of which £544 million (64%) was devoted to cancer, £166 million (19%) to CHD, £90 million (11%) to dementia and £56 million (7%) to stroke. For every £10 of health and social care costs attributable to each disease, cancer received £1.08 in research funding, CHD £0.65, stroke £0.19 and dementia £0.08.

A considerable shift in the distribution of government research funding was observed between 2008 and 2012. In 2008, 66% of governmental research funding into the four conditions under study was devoted to cancer, 21% to CHD, 9% to dementia and 4% to stroke. In 2012, the proportions devoted to dementia and stroke had increased to 21% and 12%, respectively, with cancer accounting for 45% of total research spend.

Dr Paul Guyler (Southend University Hospital)

Dr Paul Guyler (Southend University Hospital)

The sums allocated by charities have scarcely budged since 2008, say the authors. Charities are reliant on public funds so this stasis may be down to public perception of risk or a form of ageism, derived from the belief that stroke and dementia are inevitable only in the elderly, they suggest.

Despite the shift in funding priorities, research into the treatment and prevention of dementia and stroke remains underfunded when compared with the economic and personal impact these conditions have, the authors conclude.

Speaking to BJC Arrhythmia Watch Dr Paul Guyler, a Lead Consultant for Stroke (Southend University Hospital), said: “Although the relative proportions of charity research funding into cancer, coronary heart disease, dementia and stroke remained virtually unchanged between 2008 and 2012, there has been much progress by governmental research organisations to increase the levels of funding for dementia and stroke. Out of the combined government research funding for these conditions, 33% was devoted to dementia and stroke in 2012, compared with just 13% in 2008.”

“However, the total overall research funding by charities and government into stroke remains small when compared with its burden, and disproportionately low when compared with cancer…There has clearly already been progress to increase levels of research funding in stroke and dementia, but further continued rises in funding are required if these areas are to be proportionally funded when compared with the burden of disease,” Dr Guyler added.

He continued: “Research that has led to evidence-based changes in the way that these conditions are managed – such as changes in guidelines for atrial fibrillation and the calls for wider use of anticoagulation to prevent AF-related stroke– may put the spotlight on this problem, and help to improve things further. The use of intravenous thrombolysis to treat acute ischaemic stroke required major healthcare reorganisations, and the recent trials of endovascular mechanical thrombectomy improving outcomes for patients with acute ischaemic stroke due to a major vessel occlusion are likely to require further changes which may help in the delivery of research.”

“Only with research continuing to provide evidence and optimising best practice will prevention or treatment of conditions of stroke and dementia be improved, and their impact on individuals and society be lessened,” Dr Guyler concluded.


1. Luengo-Fernandez R, Leal J, Gray A. UK research spend in 2008 and 2012: comparing stroke, cancer, coronary heart disease and dementia. BMJ Open 2015;5:e006648.

Published on: April 29, 2015

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  • ArrhythmiaAlliance
  • Stars
  • Anticoagulation Europe
  • Atrial Fibrillation Association

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