Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and Emory University School of Medicine mourn the loss of an esteemed cancer researcher and beloved member of the Emory community, Brian Michael Olson, PhD. Olson was a member of Winship’s Cancer Immunology Research Program and assistant professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine. He also held joint appointments as an instructor in the Department of Urology and Department of Surgery. Olson was an active member of several professional societies, including the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Association of Immunologists.
Olson was born on October 6, 1981, in Fargo, ND, and grew up in Rochester, MN. After graduating high school, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There he also met his wife, Terrah Paul Olson, MD, an assistant professor in the Division of Colorectal Surgery, Department of Surgery, Emory University School of Medicine. The couple resided in Sandy Springs, GA, with their three children.
Olson obtained his PhD in cancer biology at the University of Wisconsin in 2010, and also completed a post-doctoral fellowship there, working to create vaccines to help treat prostate cancer. He spent an additional fellowship year at the University of Chicago before starting his own lab at Emory University.
Olson’s obituary notes that his passion was science. “He loved the excitement of learning something truly new about the world,” it says. “He worked tirelessly on a wide variety of basic and translational scientific projects, and was involved in multiple clinical trials, all in an effort to cure cancer. He was an excellent mentor, and deeply enjoyed watching budding scientists get excited about research. He collaborated widely across different disciplines. He was awarded numerous research grants and awards.”
“We are in deep shock about the demise of our valued colleague and friend,” says Winship Executive Director Suresh S. Ramalingam, MD, FACP, FASCO, Roberto C. Goizueta Distinguished Chair for Cancer Research at Emory University School of Medicine. “Dr. Olson exhibited the highest qualities as a human being and researcher. He will be missed by one and all at Winship.”
“Since starting at Emory, first as an instructor in 2017, continuing on as a tenure-track assistant professor, Brian has made valuable contributions against cancer through his translational research in the area of targeted immunotherapy of solid tumors,” says Winship’s Chief Medical Officer Sagar Lonial, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine. “He was a brilliant and innovative researcher, teacher, mentor and colleague to many. Brian has collaborated seamlessly with clinical colleagues across Winship to make important discoveries in the laboratory. His inspiring work over the past five years has already given benefit and hope to patients with melanoma, prostate cancer and head and neck cancer, among others.”
A frequent research partner with Olson, Greg B. Lesinski, PhD, MPH, Winship’s associate director for basic research and professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine, says, “Dr. Olson had a warm personality and selfless nature that will be missed dearly by all that knew and had the pleasure of working with him. He was a stellar example of collaboration, dedication to cancer research, teaching, mentorship and a beautiful mind.”
Lesinski adds, “Complementing Dr. Olson’s passion for science and discovery was his full dedication to his family as a wonderful husband and father. While we deeply mourn this tremendous loss, we are grateful for the time with him as a member of our department and offer our continued support to his family and friends during this time.”
Olson is survived by his wife, Terrah (Paul), and their three children, Rhiannon, Tessa and Benjamin; his brother, Adam, and Adam’s wife, Angie (Heilman), and their children, Charles, Henry and Keller; his mother, Judy Olson (Berg); his brother-in-law, Jordan Paul, and Jordan’s wife, Liz Roginski; brother-in-law, Micah, and Micah’s wife, Matoli (Vifansi) Paul; and his father and mother-in-law, Neal and Linda (Westerhaus) Paul.
Memorial services were held on Friday, March 17, 2023. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Prostate Cancer Foundation or Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.