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March of Dimes awards $250,000 to researcher who identified heart disease genes

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 8, 2013 A scientist whose research suggests potential cures for heart disease and treatment for heart defects the most common type of birth defects will receive the 2013 March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology.

About 35,000 infants (1 out of every 125) are born with heart defects each year in the United States. Heart defects are among the most common birth defects and are the leading cause of birth defect-related infant deaths, accounting for about 25 percent of infant deaths.

Eric N. Olson, Ph.D., professor and chair of Molecular Biology at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, has discovered pivotal genes and regulatory pathways that govern the development, disease and regeneration of the heart and other muscles. His discoveries help explain how heart formation occurs and have provided new ideas for ways to treat heart disease in children and adults.

"Heart defects affect about one percent of newborns and all of these cardiac birth defects are caused by abnormalities that occur during development," said Joe Leigh Simpson, MD, senior vice president for Research and Global Programs at the March of Dimes. "Dr. Olson's work has portrayed a detailed genetic model for heart development that provides a framework for how these genes function in normal and abnormal heart development. His work will surely lead to new ways to treat and prevent cardiac defects in infants as well as in adults."

Dr. Olson attended Wake Forest University, receiving a B.A. in chemistry and biology and a Ph.D. in biochemistry. After postdoctoral training at Washington University School of Medicine, he assumed his first faculty position in 1984 at MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he became Professor and Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1991. In 1995, he founded the Department of Molecular Biology at UT Southwestern.

Dr. Olson will receive the Prize at a gala black-tie dinner and ceremony at the Willard Intercontinental in Washington, D.C. He also will deliver the 18th Annual March of Dimes Prize Lecture titled: "The Molecular Circuitry of Heart Development, Disease and Repair" at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center during the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting. CBS sportscaster Greg Gumbel, member of the March of Dimes national Honorary Board of Trustees, is expected to host the award ceremony.

Individuals who receive the March of Dimes Prize are leaders in the field of developmental biology. Their pioneering research offers hope for prevention and treatments for some of the most serious birth defects and other human diseases.

The March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology has been awarded annually since 1996 to investigators whose research has profoundly advanced the science that underlies the understanding of birth defects. The March of Dimes Foundation created the Prize as a tribute to Dr. Jonas Salk shortly before his death in 1995. Dr. Salk received Foundation support for his work on the first safe and effective polio vaccine. The prize is a cash award of $250,000 and a silver medal in the design of the Roosevelt dime, honoring of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, March of Dimes founder.

In its 18-year history, the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology has been the crowning glory of a distinguished research career or a stepping stone on the path toward future honors for researchers. In fact, six past March of Dimes Prize recipients have gone on to win a Nobel Prize.


Contact: Elizabeth Lynch
March of Dimes Foundation

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