Public Release:  UTSW molecular biologist Olson wins March of Dimes developmental biology prize

UT Southwestern Medical Center

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Credit: UT Southwestern Medical Center

DALLAS - March 8, 2013 - Dr. Eric Olson, chairman of molecular biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, is the 2013 recipient of the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology for identifying key genetic pathways in the formation of the heart and other muscles.

His work is credited with forging new insights into heart development and regeneration that could lead to novel treatments for heart disease and muscle dysfunction. Several drugs based on his research are currently under study.

Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson, senior vice president for research and global programs for the March of Dimes, said about 1 percent of newborns have heart abnormalities that occur during development.

"Dr. Olson's work has portrayed a detailed genetic model for heart development that provides a framework for how these genes function in normal and abnormal heart development. His work will surely lead to new ways to treat and prevent cardiac defects in infants as well as in adults," Dr. Simpson said.

Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, president of UT Southwestern, said, "Dr. Olson's studies have led to profound insights into cardiac development and advanced our understanding of the basic mechanisms underlying altered cardiovascular function in disease. His work represents the very best in our faculty's efforts to pursue discoveries that can ultimately lead to better prevention and treatment of serious heart disease."

Dr. Olson joined the UTSW faculty in 1995 as chair of the then-newly formed Department of Molecular Biology. Dr. Olson, who earned his doctorate in biochemistry at Wake Forest University's Bowman Gray School of Medicine in 1981, was recruited from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

At UT Southwestern, Dr. Olson also directs the Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Center for Basic Research in Cancer. "I have been especially fortunate to work with an amazing group of colleagues at UT Southwestern, who made this award possible," Dr. Olson said. "Given that congenital heart disease is the most common human birth defect, I am also grateful that our work on heart development and disease was recognized on the 75th anniversary of the March of Dimes."

An elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Olson has garnered numerous awards and honors, including the 2012 Passano Award and the Institut de France's prestigious Lefoulon-Delalande Foundation Grand Prize for Science from the French Academy of Sciences in 2009. He also has won the Pollin Prize for Pediatric Research, the Pasarow Award in Cardiovascular Medicine, the Outstanding Investigator Award from the International Society for Heart Research, and an inaugural Distinguished Scientist Award from the American Heart Association. He was awarded the AHA's National Research Achievement Award for work that the organization described as having "redrawn battle lines in the fight against heart disease."

Dr. Olson will be recognized at a May 6 dinner in Washington, D.C.

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The March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology has been awarded annually since 1996 to investigators whose research has profoundly advanced the science that underlies the understanding of birth defects. The March of Dimes Foundation created the prize as a tribute to the late Dr. Jonas Salk, who received Foundation support for his work on a polio vaccine. The prize includes a cash award of $250,000 and a silver medal in the design of the Roosevelt dime, honoring President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who founded the March of Dimes. Six past March of Dimes Prize recipients have gone on to win a Nobel Prize.

A history of the March of Dimes and the efforts of President Roosevelt and Dr. Salk can be found at http://www.marchofdimes.com/mission/history_indepth.html

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution's faculty has many distinguished members, including five who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. Numbering more than 2,700, the faculty is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to nearly 100,000 hospitalized patients and oversee more than 2.1 million outpatient visits a year.

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