A NORTH-EAST genetics expert who had a key role in the creation of the Newcastle Centre for Life is to receive a knighthood for services to medicine.

Professor John Burn, of Newcastle University, who is head of the Institute of Human Genetics at the Centre for Life, helped produce the Donaldson Report on stem cell research.

He has also been given the job of transforming the way that healthcare is delivered in the North-East.

He was born and brought up in West Auckland, County Durham, and attended Barnard Castle Grammar School (now Teesdale School) before studying medicine at Newcastle University.

A qualified doctor, he obtained a first-class degree in human genetics and, in 1984, became the region’s first consultant clinical geneticist. In 1989, he became clinical director of the Northern Genetics Service.

In the Nineties, he was head of the department of Human Genetics at Newcastle University for six years, before being appointed deputy head of the Institute of Human Genetics at the Centre of Life, later becoming head.

Last year, the Institute was graded third in quality behind Oxford and Cambridge in a national research review.

Prof Burn’s research led to the discovery that taking folic acid during pregnancy could prevent spina bifida, and he has been involved in research into the prevention of hereditary cancers.

Based on his long record of research, Prof Burn was last year appointed national chairman of the Clinical Genetics specialty group, at the National Institute of Health Research.

A spokesman for the university said: “John has made a great contribution to the study of human genetics and its application to medicine, as well as to public understanding of the subject.

“It is a great honour for the university as well as Prof Burn and we congratulate him.’’