Eric N. Olson, Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, will be awarded the 2019 Society for Developmental Biology Edwin G. Conklin Medal for his extraordinary contributions to the field of developmental biology and mentorship of the next generation of scientists.
Olson is a preeminent leader in the field of heart and muscle biology. In his 35-year career as an independent researcher, he has identified and characterized numerous genes and pathways critical to muscle development. To name a few, he discovered the transcription factor MEF2 which is required for development of all muscle cell types. He showed that MEF2 associates with myogenin (another gene he identified) and MyoD to establish a transcriptional code for skeletal myogenesis. He also discovered the first chamber-restricted cardiac transcription factors—Hand1 and Hand2—and demonstrated their essential roles in cardiac morphogenesis.
His lab has shown how microRNAs regulate cardiac development including myocyte growth and survival, energy metabolism, fibrosis, and angiogenesis. They discovered that myosin heavy chain genes encode microRNAs in their introns and that these microRNAs control cardiac gene expression and contractility.
Recently, Olson’s group has done revolutionary work to correct Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) through gene editing. His method corrected up to 80% of human DMD mutations by skipping the most common out-of-frame DMD exons. He has shown that adeno-associated virus delivery of “myoediting” components to mice or dogs with DMD can restore dystrophin expression and muscle function throughout all muscles and the heart. This research has advanced to pre-clinical studies.
Olson has trained over 100 students and postdocs throughout his long career. As a testament to his mentorship, so many continue to carry out their own groundbreaking research in muscle biology. Olson is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Developmental Biology (1995-2005) and a recipient of the 2013 March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology. Olson will present his Conklin Medal Lecture at the SDB 78th Annual Meeting being held in Boston, Massachusetts July 26-30, 2019.