Western chancellor donates $2.5 million to university to support epilepsy research

Epilepsy research at Western University is getting a big financial boost thanks to the school’s chancellor.

After witnessing their granddaughter Sophie’s ongoing battle with the disorder, Jack Cowin and his wife Sharon decided to donate $2.5-million. Cowin said they were inspired to give when Sophie began receiving care at Western’s Epilepsy Program after years of seeking answers from other experts at medical centres across North America.

“Her mother, Katherine, took her to every expert imaginable, and the treatment and the understanding that she got at Western was superior to any place, and anyone else, that she’d talked to in her vast research on this particular problem,” said Jack Cowin in a press release. “We wanted to make a donation to foster, encourage and enhance the excellence that had clearly already been established in epilepsy research at Western.”

The donation is being matched by Western to create the Jack Cowin Chair in Epilepsy Research, and strengthen collaboration between researchers at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Robarts Research Institute and clinicians at the university’s partner academic teaching hospitals.

Dr. Jorge Burneo has been chosen as the first chair holder. He is a professor in clinical neurological sciences, and epidemiology and biostatistics at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, and co-director of the epilepsy program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and London Health Sciences Centre.

Burneo tells Global News Radio 980 CFPL what the donation will allow researchers like himself to do.

“It will provide time to be dedicated to more research, and allow us to have a space for other people to work with me on answering those questions that need to be answered,” he said.

Burneo will work as chair to build the bridge between Western’s areas of basic research strength, including medical imaging and neuroscience, and clinical practice.

He said that most funding agencies in North America support research in stroke and other neurological diseases that are less common than epilepsy, which affects one in every 100 Canadians.

“Why do some people have epilepsy? We don’t really have an explanation for some of them and there are so many questions that don’t really have an answer currently,” he said. “That made me go into this field of research, to answer some of those questions.”

It’s hoped the research will help lead to the development of better surgical outcomes, and potentially lead to less invasive surgical approaches, enabling more epilepsy patients to enjoy a better quality of life.

According to Western, London has the largest epilepsy program in Canada, with the largest volume of surgeries. The university hopes to become the preeminent centre in epilepsy research and surgery in North America.

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