Dr. Eric Olson: Dallas, USA
Eric Olson is professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he also is the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair, the Annie and Willie Nelson Professor, and the Pogue Distinguished Chair in Research on Cardiac Birth Defects.
Eric Olson has dedicated his career to deciphering the mechanisms that control muscle gene regulation and development. He and his colleagues discovered key transcription factors and mechanisms responsible for heart development and congenital heart disease. His discoveries include the MEF2 transcription factor, which regulates differentiation of all muscle cell types; myocardin, a master switch for cardiovascular muscle cell fate; Homeodomain- only protein (Hop), a regulator of cardiomyocyte proliferation; and Hand1 and Hand2, which orchestrate the formation of the cardiac chambers. Equally important is the discovery by Olson that develop- mental pathways controlled by myocardial transcription factors and histone deacetylases are responsible for pathological hypertrophy and heart failure in adulthood. Most recently, Olson discovered a cohort of microRNAs that control proliferation, differentiation and survival of cardiac muscle cells, maturation of the cardiac chambers, and blood vessel formation. Especially intriguing is the discovery of a new function for myosin heavy chain genes, revealing that they encode microRNAs within their introns, which govern cardiac contractility and stress- responsiveness of the heart. Olson’s discoveries at the interface of basic science and medicine have profoundly influenced our understanding of the development and dysfunction of the cardiovascular system, providing new concepts in the quest for cardiovascular therapeutics.
Dr. Olson grew up in North Carolina where he attended Wake Forest University, receiving a B.A. in Chemistry and Biology in 1977, a Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 1981, and an honorary doctorate in 2003. After postdoctoral training at Washington University School of Medicine, he joined the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in 1984 and became Professor and Chairman in 1991. In 1995, he founded the Department of Molecular Biology at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
Dr. Olson’s honors include the Basic Research Prize, the Founding Distinguished Scientist Award, and the Research Achievement Award from the American Heart Association, the Pasarow Medical Research Award in Cardiovascular Disease, the Gill Heart Institute Award, the Lucian Award for Research in Cardiovascular Disease, the Outstanding Investigator Award from the International Society for Heart Research, and the Pollin Prize for Lifetime Contributions to Pediatric Research. In 2009, the Institut de France and French Academy of Science awarded Dr. Olson the Fondation Lefoulon- Delalande Grand Prize, considered the largest international award in cardiovascular medicine. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and its Institute of Medicine. Dr. Olson is a dedicated mentor and is most proud of his students and postdoctoral fellows who are emerging as the next generation of leaders in cardiovascular medicine. He has over 500 publications. Eric Olson serves on numerous advisory commit- tees and editorial boards. He was Editor-in-Chief of Developmental Biology from 1995-2005 and currently serves on the editorial boards of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, U.S.A., Circulation, Circulation Research, Developmental Cell, Science, The Journal of Cell Biology, and other journals. He is a member of the Scientific Review Board of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and on the Board of Trustees of the Society for Developmental Biology.
Eric Olson was co-founder and scientific advisor of Myogen, Inc., a biotechnology company focusing on therapies for heart muscle disease, which was acquired by Gilead Pharmaceuticals in 2006. In 2007, he co- founded Miragen Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focusing on microRNAs as therapeutics for cardiovascular disease.
In his spare time, Eric Olson plays guitar and harmonica with The Transactivators, a rock band inspired by the Texas icon, Willie Nelson, who created the Professorship that Olson holds.