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Dr. James Olson, B.S.’84, Biomedical Science

Dr. James Olson, B.S.’84, Biomedical Science

Dr. James Olson graduated from Western Michigan University with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biomedical Science in 1984.

Today, Olson is the principal investigator in the Olson Laboratory and a member of the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. He also serves as a professor of pediatric hematology and oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and is an attending physician at the Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center.

Olson’s work prioritizes and advances therapeutics into clinical trials for children with brain cancer, with increasing focus on types of brains tumors that are uncommon and have the greatest need for research. The lab intends to increase the cure rate for children with these types of brain cancer by at least 10%.

The lab also aims to discover why and how tumors become resistant to drugs through state-of-the-art DNA sequencing. In 2013, Olson, along with his colleagues, launched Project Violet, a citizen-based crowd-funding initiative to develop a new class of anti-cancer compounds derived from chemical templates from organisms such as violets, scorpions, and sunflowers.

One of his more notable breakthroughs literally lights up cancer cells and helps to improve tumor removal. During surgery, pieces of a tumor can left behind, or, tissue, especially brain tissue, can be cut, causing potentially devastating consequences. Olson worked with a team of researchers to develop Tumor Paint, a drug that acts like a paint, attaching to tumor cells and illuminating them for surgeons to easily remove the entire tumor without causing damage. Additionally, Olson and his team are developing a new class of anti-cancer compounds known as optides, with the goal of creating therapies that don’t destroy healthy tissue, but only cancerous cells.

Olson is a proud alumnus of Western Michigan University and regularly cites his education and experiences in the Lee Honors College in interviews. He also received an Alumni Achievement Award from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2015.

“Dr. Jim Olson truly exemplifies the College of Arts and Sciences’ mission to ignite a passion for learning and discovery, and to contribute to the betterment of our communities, from local to global,” said Dr. Carla Koretsky, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Jim’s innovative research is driven by an urgency to make a difference in people’s lives. His successful approach to developing better surgical treatments of pediatric brain cancer is based on a unique approach using scorpion venom, and may provide an important tool for attacking many other types of cancer. Jim’s work highlights the life changing results that can be achieved by applying a combination of the creative and critical thinking to global challenges.”

Olson also holds a Doctor of Medicine Degree from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan. He is a member of the Children’s Oncology Group; The Hereditary Disease Foundation scientific advisory board, and the Society of Neuroscience, to name a few. Olson has been received many honors throughout his career, including, but not limited to, the American Academy of Pediatrics Resident Research Award, and was named an Emily Dorfman Fellow by the American Brain Tumor Association.