Eric Olson (’77, PhD ’82) – Distinguished Alumni Awardee

We are proud to recognize Dr. N. Eric Olson as the WFU Friends of Chemistry – 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.  Eric has built an amazing career at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and we are proud that he is associated with Wake Forest Chemistry.

Eric grew up in North Carolina and attended Wake Forest, where he received a B.A. in Chemistry and Biology and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry.  After postdoctoral training at Washington University School of Medicine, he joined the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in 1984 and became chairman of the department in 1991.  In 1996, he founded the Department of Molecular Biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, which has become a vibrant scientific environment that challenges and motivates trainees and enables faculty to achieve their highest potential.  Thus far, three members of the department have been elected to the National Academy of Science and three have been appointed to HHMI.

In 2014, Dr. Olson founded the Center for Regenerative Science and Medicine at UT Southwestern, which is advancing new strategies for organ regeneration, and has been supported by a special appropriation from the state of Texas.  Olson also directs the Wellstone Center for Muscular Dystrophy Research at UT Southwestern, which connects clinicians and scientists with the common goal of curing muscular dystrophy.  He holds the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair, the Pogue Chair Distinguished Chair in Cardiac Birth Defects and the Annie and Willie Nelson Professorship in Stem Cell Research.

Eric and his trainees discovered many of the key transcription factors and mechanisms responsible for development of the heart and other muscles.  His laboratory also unveiled the signaling pathways responsible for pathological cardiac hypertrophy and heart failure.  Olson’s discoveries at the interface of developmental biology and medicine have illuminated the fundamental principles of organ formation and have provided new concepts in the quest for cardiovascular therapeutics.  He has published over 600 scientific articles that have been cited over 80,000 times in the scientific literature (h index = 161).  Olson was named one of “The World’s Most Influential Minds 2014” by Thomson Reuters, which ranks global scientific impact.

Dr. Olson is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  His work has been recognized by numerous awards, including the Basic Research Prize and Research Achievement Award from the American Heart Association, the Pasarow Medical Research Award, the Pollin Prize, the Passano Award, and the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology.  In 2009, the French Academy of Science awarded Dr. Olson the Fondation Lefoulon-Delalande Grand Prize for Science.

Eric Olson has co-founded multiple biotechnology companies to design new therapies for heart muscle disease.  In his spare time, he plays guitar and harmonica with The Transactivators, a rock band inspired by the Texas troubadour, Willie Nelson, who created the Professorship that supports his research.

We are very proud that Dr. Olson is a product of the Wake Forest Chemistry Dept.  He is very deserving of our Distinguished Alumni Award.