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Peter Cowburn

Peter Cowburn


Dr Peter Cowburn is a Consultant Cardiologist at University Hospital Southampton and holder of a Research Leaders Programme (RLP) award.

His research focuses on finding new treatments for patients with heart failure.

Lifting the burden

Heart failure can affect people very differently, and the severity of the condition varies from person to person. However, Peter says that all patients can find their diagnosis a heavy burden to carry.

“There’s a huge spectrum, but patients with heart failure know they can get fluid build-up in their lungs and become more breathless, and may have abnormal heart rhythms that they can die of suddenly,” he explains.

“It’s a diagnosis a bit like cancer – you’ve been told that arguably the most important organ keeping you alive is not doing a good job. That’s a big psychological burden to live with.”

While there are now a wide range of medicines and devices that can help these patients, there remains a need to find treatments that can improve these patients’ survival and quality of life.

Returning to research

Peter has an excellent track record in research. His MD research on endothelin antagonists was published in The Lancet, and since coming to Southampton he has continued to be involved in research as much as possible.

However, his clinical role has kept him extremely busy. In 2004, he set up the heart failure service, which he lead until April last year. This means he’s had less time for research.

“I’ve had an all-consuming clinical job,” he says, “so I’ve just done little bits of research as I’ve gone along, where I can squeeze it around my day job.”

He was Principle Investigator for the IRONMAN study, which found heart failure patients who were given intravenous iron reported a better quality of life and fewer hospital visits.

Together with RLP awardee Dr Andrew Flett, he has trialled early-warning devices that can monitor patients’ condition and help prevent hospitalisations. UHS was the largest recruiter of patients to the COAST study, which involved implanting a device into patients’ pulmonary artery. More recently, they implanted the FIRE1 sensor into the inferior vena cava of the first two patients in the UK.

He has also been Chief Investigator for a trial into the impact of biventricular pacemakers on people’s cognitive function. Now, with dedicated time for his research, he intends to publish the results.

Taking on a new challenge

Since stepping down as the lead for the hospital’s heart failure service, Peter has been keen to take on a new challenge. Together with Dr Andrew Flett, he aims to grow the Trust’s research in this area.

“I think I’ve done a good job at helping Southampton achieve national recognition as a centre for heart failure,” Peter says. 

“However, I see a weakness in how well we’ve delivered on research.”

Through his RLP award, he aims to change this. Previously, he’s not had the time to run commercial trials in Southampton. Now, he intends to use his award to increase the number of trials, giving patients with heart failure at UHS more opportunities to take part in research.

In his experience, patients with heart failure are often interested in taking part in trials. He says this is not always just because the treatments being tested could improve their own health, but also because they like to feel that they are doing something for other people.

“I would like to see that research becomes much more embedded into our everyday heart failure care,” he explains. “I think patients like to take part in research, and there’s longstanding data that patients have better outcomes on a clinical trial, whether they’re on active treatment or placebo.”

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