Scientists recognized among Top 20 in translational research

By Deborah Wormser

Two UT Southwestern Medical Center investigators have earned spots on a list of Top 20 Translational Researchers of 2012 created by the Nature Publishing Group’s Bioentrepreneur, a web portal for readers interested in commercialization of advances in science.

Dr. Eric Olson, Chairman of Molecular Biology, placed sixth on the list, while Professor of Physiology Dr. Philip Thomas was 16th.

Eric Olson, Ph.D.
Eric Olson, Ph.D.

“We are delighted with this recognition,” said Dr. David Russell, Vice Provost and Dean of Basic Research. “Dr. Olson’s studies in heart development and Dr. Thomas’ analysis of unfolded proteins in human disease are paradigms of medically relevant and commercially applicable research.”

The analytics used to compile the portal’s list included the number of patents linked to corresponding authors and the studies’ institutional affiliations. Patents are frequently used as a measure of commercialization activity, and they are critical to the mission of the Office of Technology Development to develop UT Southwestern inventions to benefit humankind.

Dr. Olson, Director of the Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Center for Basic Research in Cancer, was awarded the 2013 March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology for “discovering an astonishing number of genes and regulatory pathways governing the development and growth of the cardiovascular system, leading to novel concepts and therapies to treat heart disease in children and adults.” That followed the 2012 Passano Award, which recognized his identification of major genetic pathways controlling the development of the heart and other muscles.

Dr. Olson is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (2000), the Institute of Medicine (2001), and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1998).

Dr. Thomas’ research focuses on the folding, structure, and function of integral membrane proteins and their misfolding as the basis of human disease.

Philip Thomas, Ph.D.
Philip Thomas, Ph.D.

More than a decade ago, Dr. Thomas discovered that protein folding is disrupted in cystic fibrosis, a serious, chronic genetic condition that affects breathing and digestion. He and his colleagues also developed a novel way to monitor the disease process inside cells.

Dr. Thomas was senior author of a 2012 study published in Cell that used a new technique to determine that the most common cystic fibrosis mutation actually impacts two different cellular processes, which explained why current treatments are only partially effective. The study also suggested ways to identify new treatments that deliver a one-two punch against both defective processes.

Nature Biotechnology also created a list of highest-ranking institutions by proportion of studies selected by SciBX during 2012. Considering about 200 articles from 102 institutions that had more than four studies highlighted during the year, the journal placed UT Southwestern fourth after Harvard Medical School; the University of California, San Francisco; and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital, which tied for third.


Dr. Olson holds the Pogue Distinguished Chair in Research on Cardiac Birth Defects, the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Science, and the Annie and Willie Nelson Professorship in Stem Cell Research.

Dr. Russell holds the Eugene McDermott Distinguished Chair in Molecular Genetics.

Dr. Thomas holds the Ruth S. Harrell Professorship in Medical Research.