Professor Sir John Burn

Professor Sir John Burn Kt MD FRCP FRCPE FRCPCH FRCOG FMedSci is Head of Clinical Genetics at Newcastle University.

Sir John was knighted in 2010 for services to Medicine and Healthcare. Born and raised in North East England, he attended Newcastle University Medical School, receiving a first class honours degree in Medical Science after an intercalated year in Human Genetics.

After qualifying, he completed medical and paediatric rotations before being appointed Clinical Scientific Officer at the MRC Clinical Genetics Unit in London. As honorary senior registrar at the Hospital for Sick Children Great Ormond Street he completed training as a clinical geneticist and became the first specialist in the field in the North East in 1984. From 1989 – 2004 he led the Northern Genetics Service for the North East and Cumbria. In 1991 he became the first Professor of Clinical Genetics and along with colleague professors he developed a research institute which achieved the highest national research ratings.

He served as Director of the Institute of Human Genetics (IHG) from 2005-2010 during which time they achieved a 3rd place behind Oxford and Cambridge for Quality in the 2008 Research Assessment.

He conceived and helped bring to fruition the Millennium Landmark Centre for Life in Newcastle opened by the Queen in 2000. In addition to housing the IHG and the region’s Fertility and Genetics services, the Centre attracts ¼ million paying visitors provides practical science education to 40,000 schoolchildren per annum. From 2000-2005 he was a founder member of the Human Genetics Commission. From 2002-7 he was Public Orator for Newcastle University. Extensive media involvement includes being scientific advisor and participant in the BBC/Discovery series How to Build a Human in 2001.

In 2008 he was appointed chair of the newly created Clinical Genetics Specialty Group of the National Institute of Health Research. In 2009 he became Director of the National Collaborative Group on Genetics in Healthcare and Lead Clinician for the NHS in the North East of England. In 2010 he was appointed to chair the Innovation strand of the new UK Human Genomics Steering Group.

Sir John is an author on over 250 peer reviewed articles; his early research in the 70s and 80s focused on the causes and prevention of birth defects. His MD thesis on the causes of heart malformation was awarded a distinction. In subsequent years he discovered a new neurodegenerative disorder for which his team found the causative mutation in L chain ferritin leading to the name Neuroferritinopathy. He developed an international consortium to pursue the idea of chemoprevention in those at genetic risk of colorectal cancer. Its second study, CAPP2, resulted in a first author paper in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008. Recent follow-up of that international cohort of 1,000 carriers of mismatch repair gene defects has revealed a 60% reduction in colorectal and other related cancers in those treated with aspirin (Burn et al Lancet 2011). In August 2012 he became Interim Clinical Director of the newly created NHS Clinical Networks Northern England.