Meet the Chair

Eric N Olson, Chair, Department of Molecular Biology
Eric N. Olson, Ph.D.

After receiving his Ph.D. and training as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biological Chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, Eric Olson, Ph.D., got his first faculty position in 1984 at UT MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. While in Houston, Dr. Olson began studying how cells differentiate into their specialized, mature forms, and decided to use muscle cells as the basis of his research. In 1991, after four years in the position, Dr. Olson became Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at MD Anderson. 

Dr. Olson moved to UT Southwestern in 1995 to establish a new Department of Molecular Biology.

The Olson Lab

The Olson Lab studies muscle cells as a model for understanding how embryonic cells adopt specific fates and how programs of cell differentiation and morphogenesis are controlled during development. There are three major muscle cell types: cardiac, skeletal and smooth, which express distinct sets of genes controlled by different combinations of transcription factors and extracellular signals. The Lab has focused on discovering novel transcription factors that control development of these muscle cell types as well as their remodeling in response to cardiovascular and neuromuscular diseases. The processes involved in muscle development are evolutionarily ancient and conserved across diverse organisms.

This conservation has enabled the Olson Lab to take a cross-species approach to dissect this problem by identifying myogenic regulatory genes in the fruit fly as well as in vertebrate embryos. The Lab recently began exploring the roles of microRNAs in the control of muscle development and disease. The long-term goal of the Olson Lab is to delineate the complete genetic pathways for the formation and function of each muscle cell type and to use this information to devise pharmacologic and genetic therapies for inherited and acquired muscle diseases in humans.

The Olson Lab includes an international team of students and postdoctoral fellows. They also have a group of highly-skilled research associates, who provide continuity to the Lab and the technical infrastructure that facilitates discovery. With an emphasis on creativity, collaboration, and camaraderie, the Lab has fun together and celebrates the group's success. The Lab provides a supportive and challenging environment for students. Postdoctoral fellows in the Olson Lab are encouraged to develop their own independent projects, which they eventually take with them to serve as the foundation of their own laboratories. Many former students and postdocs from the Olson Lab are emerging as the next generation of leaders in cardiovascular medicine.

Dr. Olson has co-founded several biopharmaceutical companies to develop new therapies for heart and muscle diseases. 

In his spare time, Dr. Olson plays guitar and sings with a classic rock/blues/funk band called, appropriately enough, The Transactivators, inspired by the Texas icon Willie Nelson, who created the Professorship that Olson holds.