Jean Holowach Thurston

Set standards for pediatric epilepsy research

Jean Thurston with Washington University shield logo

Jean Holowach Thurston was born June 22, 1917, in Edmonton, Canada. She earned her BA in 1938 and her MD in 1941 from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. During the war (1945-45), she practiced pediatrics in Calgary, Canada before coming to Washington University School of Medicine to begin a fellowship in Pediatrics (Metabolism) from 1945-47. She returned to practice pediatrics in Edmonton from 1947-49, before permanently returning to St. Louis in 1949.

Since the late 40s, Thurston had been at the forefront of pediatric neurology. Her clinical work has set standards for pediatric epilepsy research. Her knowledge of brain metabolism and neurochemistry is legendary, serving as the basis for many influential papers on childhood metabolic disorders.

Thurston was among the first to perform longitudinal studies on epileptic patients after anticonvulsant withdrawal.

In 1949, Thurston was appointed to the faculty of the Department of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine. She served as an instructor until 1954 when she was promoted to Assistant Professor of Pediatrics. From 1962-65, Thurston did a special U.S.P.H.S. NINDB neurochemistry fellowship in the laboratory of Oliver Lowry prior to returning to the faculty as an Associate Professor. She was appointed Professor of Pediatrics in 1975 and Professor of Neurology (Neurochemistry) in 1982. She became Professor Emerita in 1987.

Thurston served as Director for the State of Missouri Premature Program from 1949-1961 and was Director of the Pediatric Convulsive Clinic from 1950-1962. Her scientific insight and rigor have been recognized by many editorial positions and NIH consultancy roles. Thurston died in 2017.

A life-long scholar

A pioneer in the field of pediatric neurology, Thurston was among the first to perform longitudinal studies on epileptic patients after anticonvulsant withdrawal. Her published results were so influential that these papers still serve as a guide for child neurologists. A tireless learner, in midcareer she immersed herself in benchtop science, subsequently establishing her own neurochemistry lab where she continued to make seminal contributions. In testimonial to her lifelong learning habits, Thurston had more CME credits in 2003 than anyone else at Washington University School of Medicine.

Modest and unassuming, Thurston was also a dedicated opera buff, an avid rose gardener and a fantastic cook. She and her husband were known for their holiday hospitality for the house staff. Ever an advocate and mentor for younger colleagues, she made extraordinary efforts to facilitate junior research careers. In recognition of her dedication and assistance, Thurston received the Fomen-Peterson Founders Award from the Midwest Society for Pediatric Research in 1990. For her substantial contributions to the field of child neurology, Thurston was awarded the first “life-time achievement award” by the Child Neurology Society in 2004.