Professor Frances Cowan

James Spence Medallist

Professor Cowan received the James Spence Medal in 2018. 

Frances Cowan is Visiting Professor of Perinatal Neurology in the Department of Neurosciences at the University of Bristol and Clinical Senior Lecturer in Perinatal Neurology, Imperial College London. She holds honorary consultant contracts at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. She was awarded a PhD from the University of Oslo where she continues to have strong links.

Her work brings immediate and direct benefit to patient care

Frances’s research has led to important new understanding in the antecedents, diagnosis, and treatment of perinatal brain injury. Her outstanding contributions are evidenced in over 200 original research peer-reviewed papers. She been involved in the training of an innumerable number of clinicians, clinical psychologists, and other students in the UK and around the world. Her work brings immediate and direct benefit to patient care.

There are many examples of the impact of Frances’s global contributions to advancing knowledge in infant health and improving outcomes. In work spanning three decades, Frances has been at the forefront of elucidating patterns of brain injury in preterm and full term newborn babies. In the 1980s she meticulously examined very preterm babies using ultrasound imaging of the brain. When brain magnetic resonance imaging came into wide use in the 90s it was France’s painstaking work that correlated magnetic resonance, ultrasound, and clinical examination. She has been instrumental in describing the clinical and imaging features, prognosis and aetiology of stroke in full-term babies. This research led to realistic ability to predict clinical consequences from early imaging findings in preterm and full term babies, and provide prognostic information to counsel parents. 

Frances developed the Hammersmith Neurological Examination scheme, now used around the world. She is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Edinburgh Birth Cohort.  She trained local researchers in Uganda in evaluating the effectiveness of therapeutic hypothermia using low cost techniques, and clinicians in Armenia carrying out and interpreting neonatal cranial ultrasound scans, and implementing routine neonatal scanning into that country. 

She can truly be said to have been instrumental in developing perinatal neurology as a new discipline

Frances is a caring, kind, warm-hearted person, always willing to go the extra distance to help a family, friend, or colleague. She is known to paediatricians, neonatologists and researchers around the world as one of the foremost clinical and academic experts in perinatal neurology. She can truly be said to have been instrumental in developing perinatal neurology as a new discipline. Her wealth of clinical knowledge coupled with academic achievement makes her opinion extremely highly sought and she often called upon to offer expert advice in the UK and around the world. Whereas many researchers achieve prominence in publication and scientific advance, Frances is among the very few who has also brought her profound knowledge and insight directly to the immediate benefit of sick newborn babies. 

...a joy to witness and clinical medicine at its very best

To watch Frances take a thorough history, conduct a careful, meticulous examination, report state-of-the art imaging and review detailed investigations and then provide a clear explanation of diagnosis, prognosis, and treatments to parents and professionals alike, is a joy to witness and clinical medicine at its very best. For her contribution to clinical and academic perinatal neurology, she received the James Spence Medal.

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