Granddaughter’s epilepsy battle inspires $2.5-million donation

Spurred on by their granddaughter’s ongoing battle with epilepsy, Western Chancellor Jack Cowin, BA’64, LLD’00, and his wife Sharon have made a substantial $2.5-million gift to epilepsy research at Western University.

Jack and Sharon were motivated to make the gift when their granddaughter, Sophie, received care at Western’s Epilepsy Program after years of seeking answers from 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. “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 gift establishes the Jack Cowin Chair in Epilepsy Research and will be used to strengthen the tradition of collaboration between researchers at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Robarts Research Institute and clinicians at the University’s partner academic teaching hospitals, to the benefit of hundreds of epilepsy patients a year.

Western University will match the gift dollar-for-dollar to create a $5-million endowment to fund the Chair.

After an extensive international search, Dr. Jorge Burneo has been appointed as the inaugural Chairholder. Dr. Burneo 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.

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

“The creation of this research chair in epilepsy at Western will help attract more individuals to work here in London, and allow us to enhance the research and allow us to build partnerships to enhance our clinical care for patients,” said Burneo.

These ongoing multidisciplinary collaborations will help lead to the development of better surgical outcomes, and potentially lead to less invasive surgical approaches, enabling more epilepsy patients to experience a renewed quality of life.

“When donors support our research, it enables us to explore new angles, test new therapies and ultimately advance our collective knowledge to new levels of understanding in treatment benefiting our patients,” said Dr. Davy Cheng, Acting Dean and Distinguished University Professor, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. “We’re incredibly grateful for the Cowins’ generosity and support.”

London has the largest epilepsy program in Canada, with the largest volume of surgeries, and attracts fellows from around the world, including the Middle East, Europe and Asia. This gift is the catalyst to help prepare the University to become the preeminent centre in epilepsy research and surgery in North America.

Epilepsy affects one in every 100 Canadians, and thirty per cent of those affected do not respond to medication.

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