Adrian Owen

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Adrian Owen, British neuroscientist

Adrian Mark Owen OBE (born 17 May 1966) is a British neuroscientist and author. He is currently the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging[1] at The Brain and Mind Institute, The University of Western Ontario, Canada. He is best known for his 2006 discovery, published in the journal Science, showing that some patients thought to be in a vegetative state, are in fact fully aware and (shown subsequently) able to communicate with the outside world using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). In 2019, Owen was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his contributions to science.

Early life and education[edit]

Adrian Owen was born 17 May 1966 in Gravesend, England, and educated at Gravesend Grammar School. He completed his PhD degree at the Institute of Psychiatry, London (now part of King's College London) between 1988 and 1992.


In 1992, Owen moved to the Cognitive Neuroscience Unit at the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University to work with Michael Petrides and Brenda Milner. He was awarded The Pinsent Darwin Scholarship by the University of Cambridge in 1996 and returned to the UK to work at the newly opened Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre, Cambridge. In 1997 he moved to the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (CBU), Cambridge (formally the Applied Psychology Unit) to set up the neuroimaging programme there and to pursue his research in cognitive neuroscience. He was awarded MRC tenure in 2000 and made Assistant Director of the MRC CBU in 2005, with overall responsibility for the onsite imaging facilities (3T Siemens Tim Trio MRI and 306-channel Elekta-Neuromag MEG systems).

In 2010, Owen was awarded a $10M Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at The University of Western Ontario (UWO)[1] and moved most of his research team to Canada in order to take up this position in January 2011.[2]


Over the last 20 years, Owen has published more than 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers and over 40 chapters and books.[3] His work has appeared in many of the world's most prestigious scientific and medical journals, including Science, Nature, The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine. His H-Index (Google Scholar) is currently 99.[4]

His early publications on patients with frontal or temporal-lobe excisions[better source needed][5][6][7][8][9][10] pioneered the use of touch screen based computerised cognitive tests in neuropsychology. Over the last 20 years, these tests have gone on to be used in more than 600 published studies of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, Depression, Schizophrenia, Autism, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and ADHD, among others.

His post-doctoral research on working memory with Michael Petrides, (PNAS, Cerebral Cortex, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Brain and others) was instrumental in refuting the then prevailing view of lateral frontal-lobe organisation advanced by Patricia Goldman-Rakic and others, and is still widely cited in that context. His 1996 paper on the organisation of working memory processes within the human frontal lobe continues to be one of the most highly cited articles ever to appear in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex.[11]

His 2006 paper in the journal Science[12] demonstrated that functional neuroimaging could be used to detect awareness in a patient who was incapable of generating any recognised behavioural response and appeared to be in a vegetative state. This landmark discovery has implications for clinical care, diagnosis, medical ethics and medical/legal decision-making (relating to the prolongation, or otherwise, of life after severe brain injury).[5][13][14][15] In a follow up paper in 2010 in The New England Journal of Medicine,[16] Owen and his team used a similar method to allow a man believed to be in a vegetative state for more than 5 years to answer 'yes' and 'no' questions with responses that were generated solely by changing his patterns of fMRI activity.[17]

This research attracted international attention from the world's media; it was reported in many hundreds of newspapers around the world (including twice on the front page of the New York Times and other quality journals) and has been widely discussed on television (e.g. BBC News,[18] Channel 4 News, ITN News, Sky News,[19] CNN[20]), radio (e.g. BBC World Service[21]) 'Outlook' documentary, NPR Radio (USA), BBC Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4), in print (e.g. full featured articles in The New Yorker[22] The Times, The Sunday Times, The Observer Magazine etc.) and online (including Nature, Science and The Guardian podcasts). To date, the discovery has featured prominently in 6 television documentaries including 60 Minutes (USA),[23] Panorama BBC Special Report (UK),[24] Inside Out (BBC TV series) (UK),[25] and CBC The National (Canada).[26]

In 2009, Owen launched Cambridge Brain Sciences, a free web-based platform for members of the public and the wider scientific community to assess their cognitive function using scientifically proven tests of memory, attention, reasoning and planning. To date, the tests on the site have been taken by more than 100,000 people worldwide.[27]

In April 2010, Owen and his team published the largest ever public test of computer-based brain training in the journal Nature.[28] The study, conducted in conjunction with the BBC, showed that practice on brain training games does not transfer to other mental skills. More than 11,000 adults followed a six-week training regime, completing computer-based tasks on the BBC's website designed to improve reasoning, memory, planning, visuospatial skills and attention.[29] Although improvements were observed in every one of the cognitive tasks that were trained, no evidence was found for 'transfer' effects to untrained tasks, even when those tasks were cognitively closely related. Details of the results were revealed on BBC1 in Can You Train Your Brain?, a Bang Goes the Theory special and published on the same day in Nature.[30]

In November 2011, Owen led a study that was published in a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal, The Lancet.[31] The Researchers found a method for assessing whether or not some patients who appear to be vegetative, are in fact, conscious and are just not able to respond. This new method is using electroencephalography (EEG), which is not only less expensive than MRI, but is also portable and can be taken right to the patients bedside for testing.[32][33]

Other academic roles[edit]

Owen also held/holds affiliations with:


  • The Pinsent Darwin Scholarship by the University of Cambridge (1996)
  • Shortlisted for the Morgan-Stanley 'Great Briton of 2006' prize (2006)
  • Voted 'Scientist to Watch in 2008' by the Financial Times, UK (2008)
  • Voted the 50th most important scientist in the UK in The Times (London) 'Top 100' Science List (2010)
  • Hellmuth Prize for Achievement in Research Award, Western University, London, Canada (2013)[34]
  • Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) (2019)

Personal life[edit]

Owen lives in London, Ontario and has one son, Jackson. His brother, Christopher J. Owen, is Professor of Physics and Head of the Space Plasma Group at University College London (UCL) Department of Space and Climate Physics. His sister, Frances Walsh is an Oncology Research Nurse, in Warwickshire England. For the past twenty-years, Owen has played guitar and sung in various bands made up of fellow scientists and musicians.


  1. ^ a b "Adrian Owen". Canada Excellence Research Chairs. 2012-11-29. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  2. ^ Travis, Heather (2010-05-27). "One of Britain's best picks Western". Western News. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  3. ^ "Publications - Owen Lab". Western University. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  4. ^ "Google Scholar - Adrian Owen". 2014-11-14.
  5. ^ a b Owen, Adrian M; Coleman, Martin R (2007). "Functional MRI in disorders of consciousness: advantages and limitations". Current Opinion in Neurology. 20 (6): 632–7. doi:10.1097/WCO.0b013e3282f15669. PMID 17992081.
  6. ^ Owen, A; Downes, JJ; Sahakian, BJ; Polkey, CE; Robbins, TW (1990). "Planning and spatial working memory following frontal lobe lesions in man". Neuropsychologia. 28 (10): 1021–34. doi:10.1016/0028-3932(90)90137-D. PMID 2267054.
  7. ^ Owen, A; Roberts, AC; Polkey, CE; Sahakian, BJ; Robbins, TW (1991). "Extra-dimensional versus intra-dimensional set shifting performance following frontal lobe excisions, temporal lobe excisions or amygdalo-hippocampectomy in man". Neuropsychologia. 29 (10): 993–1006. doi:10.1016/0028-3932(91)90063-E. PMID 1762678.
  8. ^ Owen, A. M.; James, M.; Leigh, P. N.; Summers, B. A.; Marsden, C. D.; Quinn, N. P.; Lange, K. W.; Robbins, T. W. (1992). "Fronto-Striatal Cognitive Deficits at Different Stages of Parkinson's Disease". Brain. 115 (6): 1727–51. doi:10.1093/brain/115.6.1727. PMID 1486458.
  9. ^ Owen, A; Sahakian, BJ; Semple, J; Polkey, CE; Robbins, TW (1995). "Visuo-spatial short-term recognition memory and learning after temporal lobe excisions, frontal lobe excisions or amygdalo-hippocampectomy in man". Neuropsychologia. 33 (1): 1–24. doi:10.1016/0028-3932(94)00098-A. PMID 7731533.
  10. ^ Owen, Adrian M.; Morris, Robin G.; Sahakian, Barbara J.; Polkey, Charles E.; Robbins, Trevor W. (1996). "Double dissociations of memory and executive functions in working memory tasks following frontal lobe excisions, temporal lobe excisions or amygdalo-hippocampectomy in man". Brain. 119 (5): 1597–615. doi:10.1093/brain/119.5.1597. PMID 8931583.
  11. ^ Owen, Adrian M.; Evans, Alan C.; Petrides, Michael (1996). "Evidence for a Two-Stage Model of Spatial Working Memory Processing within the Lateral Frontal Cortex: A Positron Emission Tomography Study". Cerebral Cortex. 6 (1): 31–8. doi:10.1093/cercor/6.1.31. PMID 8670636.
  12. ^ Owen, Adrian M.; Coleman, Martin R. (2008). "Detecting Awareness in the Vegetative State". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1129 (1): 130–8. Bibcode:2008NYASA1129..130O. doi:10.1196/annals.1417.018. PMID 18591475.
  13. ^ Fins, JJ; Schiff, ND (2006). "Shades of Gray: New Insights Into the Vegetative State". Hastings Center Report. 36 (6): 8. doi:10.1353/hcr.2006.0094.
  14. ^ Owen, Adrian M.; Coleman, Martin R. (2008). "Functional neuroimaging of the vegetative state". Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 9 (3): 235–43. doi:10.1038/nrn2330. PMID 18285801.
  15. ^ Owen, AM; Coleman, MR (2008). "Using neuroimaging to detect awareness in disorders of consciousness". Functional Neurology. 23 (4): 189–94. PMID 19331781.
  16. ^ Monti, Martin M.; Vanhaudenhuyse, Audrey; Coleman, Martin R.; Boly, Melanie; Pickard, John D.; Tshibanda, Luaba; Owen, Adrian M.; Laureys, Steven (2010). "Willful Modulation of Brain Activity in Disorders of Consciousness". New England Journal of Medicine. 362 (7): 579–89. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa0905370. PMID 20130250.
  17. ^ Boseleys, S "Think tennis for yes, home for no: how doctors helped man in vegetative state" The Guardian, 3 February 2010.
  18. ^ "Scan unlocks vegetative patients". BBC. 2010-02-03. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  19. ^ Borland, Huw (2010-02-04). "'Vegetative' Man 'Talks' Using His Thoughts". Sky News. Archived from the original on 9 May 2016. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  20. ^ Wilkinson, Peter (2010-02-09). "'Vegetative state' man responds to questions". Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  21. ^ "Listen to Dr Adrian Owen". BBC World Service. 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  22. ^ Groopman, Jerome (2007-10-15). "Silent Minds". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  23. ^ (2014-04-14), Vegetative State, retrieved 2016-04-13
  24. ^ "The Mind Reader - Unlocking My Voice". Dailymotion. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  25. ^ (2009-02-23), InsideOut, retrieved 2016-04-13
  26. ^ (2012-11-15), Vegetative state brain scanning breakthrough, retrieved 2016-04-13
  27. ^ "Welcome - Cambridge Brain Sciences". Cambridge Brain Sciences Inc. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  28. ^ Owen, Adrian M.; Hampshire, Adam; Grahn, Jessica A.; Stenton, Robert; Dajani, Said; Burns, Alistair S.; Howard, Robert J.; Ballard, Clive G. (2010). "Putting brain training to the test". Nature. 465 (7299): 775–8. Bibcode:2010Natur.465..775O. doi:10.1038/nature09042. PMC 2884087. PMID 20407435.
  29. ^ Rutherford, Adam (2010-04-20). "Brain-training games don't work". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  30. ^ Katsnelson, Alla (2010-04-20). "No gain from brain training". Nature News. 464 (7292): 1111. doi:10.1038/4641111a. PMID 20414280.
  31. ^ Cruse, Damian; Chennu, Srivas; Chatelle, Camille; Bekinschtein, Tristan A.; Fernández-Espejo, Davinia; Pickard, John D.; Laureys, Steven; Owen, Adrian M. (2011-12-17). "Bedside detection of awareness in the vegetative state: a cohort study". Lancet. 378 (9809): 2088–2094. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61224-5. ISSN 1474-547X. PMID 22078855.
  32. ^ Goldfine; Victor; Conte; Bardin; Schiff (2013). "Reanalysis of "Bedside detection of awareness in the vegetative state"". Lancet. 381 (9863): 289–91. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(13)60125-7. PMC 3641526. PMID 23351802.
  33. ^ Cruse, D; Chennu, S; Chatelle, C; Bekinschtein, TA; Fernández-Espejo, D; Pickard, JD; Laureys, S; Owen, AM (2013). "Reanalysis of "Bedside detection of awareness in the vegetative state: a cohort study" — Authors' reply". Lancet. 381 (9863): 291–292. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(13)60126-9. PMID 23351803.
  34. ^ Mayne, Paul (2013-05-09). "Hellmuth celebrates Owen, Beamish". Western News. Retrieved 2016-04-13.

External links[edit]

  • [1] Adrian Owen's Lab web page.
  • [2] CERC - Canada Excellence Research Chair
  • [3] Cambridge Brain Sciences, online web-based testing.
  • [4] Clare Hall, Cambridge.
  • [5] BBC News coverage of Adrian Owen's research.
  • [6] BBC News coverage of Adrian Owen's research.
  • [7] Brain Test Britain (Bang Goes The Theory).
  • [8] Adrian Owen's recent collaboration with The New Scientist.
  • [9] BBC Panorama Documentary "The Mind Reader: Unlocking My Voice".