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The University of Southampton

Emeritus Professor Colin Kennedy BA, MBBS, MD

Professor in Neurology and Paediatrics, Consultant and Clinical Lead in Paediatric Neurology

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Colin Kennedy graduated in Medicine and in Psychology from the University of Oxford and completed his clinical training in London. Following postgraduate medical training in London, Southampton and at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the USA, he established in 1988 a new paediatric neurology service in Southampton to a population of 3 million in central Southern England. He remains in that post at Southampton where he was appointed to a personal chair in Neurology and Paediatrics in 2006. He is a former president of the British Paediatric Neurology Association and of the European Paediatric Neurology Society.

His several research interests have shared a common theme of measuring neurological and other health outcomes in infants, children and young people. His research on universal newborn hearing screening underpinned its introduction throughout the UK and the USA. Current interests include the effects of early intervention on language and reading in permanent childhood hearing impairment and on interventions to improve quality of survival after childhood brain tumours. He is also leading an initiative to make a positive difference to the care of children with neurological problems across Europe and Central Asia, involving the European Office of the World Health Organisation and paediatric neurologists in Western Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

It’s important in my field to move beyond merely describing the complex problems associated with paediatric neurological conditions to making a positive difference. I have been lucky to be involved in of topics of international public health as well as clinical significance and to play some role in establishing reliably whether interventions are harmful or beneficial and need to be abandoned or embraced.

Colin Kennedy was born and raised in Edinburgh, graduated in Medicine and in Physiology and Psychology from the University of Oxford and completed his clinical training at Westminster Hospital Medical School London. Following appointments at postgraduate teaching hospitals in London and an MRC fellowship at Northwick Park Clinical Research Centre London, he completed his training in Southampton and at Johns Hopkins Hospital Baltimore, Maryland where he was also joint leader of the Paediatric Neuro-oncology service.

In 1988 he established a new paediatric neurology service in Southampton serving a population of 3 million in central Southern England and he remains in that post at Southampton where he was appointed to a personal chair in 2006. Fruitful research collaborations include close links with the School of Psychology.

He is a former president of his specialty group in the UK (the British Paediatric Neurology Association and also in Europe (the European Paediatric Neurology Society). He also convened in 1999 the European Committee of National Advisors in Paediatric Neurology.

Current interests include the benefit of early intervention for later language, reading skills and social development in children and young people with permanent hearing impairment; quality of survival after childhood brain tumours; the care of children with neurological problems across Europe and Central Asia, including the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union).


1st BM, University of Oxford (1973)
BA, Psychology and Physiology, University of Oxford (1975)
MBBS, London University (1978)
MD, London University (1987)

Appointments held

MRC Research Fellow and Honorary Registrar in Paediatrics , Northwick Park Clinical Research Centre, Harrow, London 1982-1984

Clinical Lecturer and Honorary Senior Registrar in Child Health , University of Southampton 1984-1987

Clinical Fellow , Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, USA 1985-1987

Consultant in Paediatric Neurology , Southampton University Hospitals Trust

Senior Lecturer then Reader in Paediatric Neurology 1988-2006

Professor in Neurology and Paediatrics 2006-present.

Research interests

Professor Kennedy’s current work is focused to address four research questions, as described below:

1. What is the benefit to teenagers with permanent childhood hearing impairment (PCHI) detected in infancy of early intervention for their PCHI?

Neuroscientists are increasingly acknowledging the importance of the first few months of life for the development of the pathways in the brain that support normal spoken language development . The language input that an infant receives during this time shapes the development of these neural pathways. Even though babies are not producing language this early on, the language that they hear from others will be laying the foundations in the brain for their own production of language at a later stage. As we know, this is the case in infants born with a hearing impairment for whom significantly degraded language input in the critical first few months of life impacts severely on their spoken language development. Early identification of hearing loss and early intervention can mitigate these effects.

In a series of three projects all funded by the Wellcome Trust and important collaborations with the School of Psychology and others, Prof Kennedy has explored the impact of early intervention in children with permanent childhood hearing impairment . The first two led to publications, including reports in N Engl J Med and The Lancet , that were central to the decisions of the UK National Screening Committee and the American Preventative Services Taskforce to recommend universal newborn screening for PCHI. In the most recent (2010-13) phase of the project, Dr Hannah Pimperton managed the project team which includes one post-doctoral and five postgraduate research assistants; a health economist; and a statistician. The team assessed language and reading skills but also peer relations and theory of mind in teenagers with hearing impairment. The aim of the project is to determine the long term benefits of universal newborn hearing screening and of confirmation of hearing impairment prior to the age of six months. Our findings suggest that the benefit of early confirmation of hearing impairment that was apparent at primary school age increases during teen age. These findings were submitted for publication in October 2013.

2. What role does the development of phonological processing play in the reading abilities of children with PCHI and children with specific reading disability?

Prof Kennedy, and in the School of Psychology, Prof Simon Liversedge and Dr Hazel Blythe, are funded by the Leverhulme Trust to examine the development of phonological processing , a critical skill underlying successful reading development. Phonological processing during silent reading will be assessed in normally hearing individuals with and without a cognitive-level phonological deficit (reading disability ) and in individuals who have deficits in their phonological processing stemming from PCHI. This will provide significant insights into the reading difficulties within these groups of children.

3. Can on-line assessment be successfully developed to assess the Quality of Survival of children treated for medulloblastoma or other CNS tumours and then applied more widely to survivors of non-CNS tumours and of other acquired brain injury?

A quarter of all childhood tumours arise in the CNS and 1 in 1,000 adults are survivors of childhood brain tumour. Over half have moderate or severe disability. Prof Kennedy chairs the Quality of Survival (QoS) working groups of collaborative paediatric brain tumour study groups in the UK (CCLG/NCRI) and Europe (SIOP-E) where a consensus has been achieved on methodology for assessment of QoS in UK and European collaborative treatment trials.

In a series of projects funded by the Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust, Brain Tumour UK and the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG), Prof Kennedy, Kim Bull - research fellow - and co-investigators have undertaken studies of QoS after childhood brain tumour. The first of these, reported in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, assessed QoS at seven years after diagnosis in children treated in the European controlled trial of medulloblastoma , the commonest malignant brain tumour of childhood PNET3. Compared to those who received craniospinal irradiation alone, QoS was poorer in the treatment arm of the trial that received chemotherapy as well.

The majority of trials of new agents and treatment regimens aim to improve QoS by lessening the unwanted effects of treatment without reducing the rate of survival achieved by the treatment given. The PNET4 trial, for example, is designed to determine whether, when compared with conventionally fractionated radiotherapy, hyperfractionated therapy offers a measurable benefit to the QoS of survivors of medulloblastoma without reducing the survival rate. Prof Kennedy led a study of QoS in this trial, widening use of the method that was successful in PNET3 (above) to include seven European languages used in participating countries, and with Kim Bull, has completed assessments of QoS of survivors of childhood cerebellar tumours in England and Wales, including interviews and cognitive assessments in their homes.

Web-based assessments of QoS are now possible. HealthTracker (HT), is a new, user-friendly, web-based software platform that has been adopted for research and clinical use in UK and by the EMEA in Europe. It has been highlighted for its excellence by Connecting for Health but it has not previously been applied in the context of childhood brain tumours.

Using European Commission ‘Network of Excellence’ funding and international collaborations, Prof Kennedy’s team are now creating a web-based neuro-oncology HealthTracker module that will enable families to provide information on their health and well-being over the internet. As well as being easier to administer than paper-based questionnaire, this method has the potential to generate immediate reports that can be used to guide the continuing support and health care being offered to that individual child and their family.

In the medium term, we propose to make our web-based assessment the central pillar of a unified outcome study into which participants in trials of tumours of the CNS and, perhaps also tumours of other organs, could be enrolled. Furthermore, these methods could easily be applied to other acquired brain injuries of childhood such as head injury, meningitis and encephalitis.

4. What is the role of DNA polymorphisms in drug metabolism, inflammatory response and brain repair in determing the neuro-cogntive outcome of treatments for CNS tumours of childhood?

Prof Kennedy is working to accrue a databank of DNA samples from participants in these studies (PNET 3, 4, 5 & 6) to look at the influence of genetic polymorphisms in determining specific aspects of QoS. This could be an important step forward in tailoring therapy according to individual variation in risks to QoS associated with treatments.


Clinical and Experimental Sciences

Affiliate Department(s)

Clinical Neuroscience Research group

Clinical Lead for Paediatric Neurology

Postgraduate student supervision

PhDs completed:
Sarah Bayless 2004
Pavlina Psychouli 2009
Sarah Worsfold 2012
Kim Bull 2013

Six trainees have completed higher specialist training in Paediatric Neurology under my supervison and all have taken up senior teaching hospital appointment. A seventh is in progress. Taken together this is equivalent to 10% of the UK consultant establishment in my specialty.

Principal investigator in research studies :
- international RCT of drug therapy for post-haemorrhagic ventricular dilatation (completed)
- studies of benefit of universal newborn screening and early intervention for bilateral permanent childhood hearing impairment (completed and in progress)
- studies of effect on Quality of Survival (QoS) of survivors enrolled in European RCTs of treatments for medulloblastoma (completed and in progress)

QoS task leader in ‘Network of Excellence’ programme of European Network of Cancer care for Children and Adolescents (ENCCA) (in progress)

Co-investigator in
- ‘HeadSmart’ Project to promote early diagnosis of childhood brain tumours (completed 2012)
- Phonological processing in Silent Reading (in progress)
- UKISS and ICISS international RCT of treatments for infantile spasms (completed and in progress)
- National survey of idiopathic intracranial hypertension in childhood (completed 2012)

Board member and Trustee of UK Children’s Neurological Research Campaign (UKCNRC) 2008-2013

Chair of Research Support Panel of UKCNRC 2010-2013

Chair of Quality of Survival Working Groups of SIOP-Europe and of Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group 2005-2012

Chair of Joint Working Group of European Paediatric Neurology Society, European Academy of Childhood Disability and World Health Organisation, European Office on guidelines for management of neurological disorders in childhood 2007-2013

Editorial Boards of European Paediatrics and European Journal of Paediatric Neurology.

Personal Tutor

Supervision of penultimate year studies in depth in BM5, BMedSci

Final year clinical undergraduate teaching

National and European postgraduate teaching in specialty

Emeritus Professor Colin Kennedy
Faculty of Medicine, Room AB215, Mailpoint 801, South Academic Block, University Hospital Southampton, Tremona Road, Southampton, SO16 6YD

Room Number: SGH/CG79/MP803

Telephone: 02381204457

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