James M. Olson

Appointments and Affiliations

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Clinical Research Division
University of Washington
School of Medicine
Pediatric Hematology/Oncology
Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center
Attending Physician, Appointed: 1998
Professional Headshot of James M. Olson

Mailing Address

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
P.O. Box 19024
1100 Fairview Ave. N., D4-100
Seattle, Washington 98109-1024
United States


M.D., University of Michigan, Medicine, 1991.
Ph.D., University of Michigan, Pharmacology, 1989.
B.S., Western Michigan University, Biomedical Science, Magna Cum Laude, 1984.

Research Interests

Dr. Olson's laboratory studies the gene expression programs controlling neural differentiation, brain tumor genesis, and neurodegenerative diseases. Translation of laboratory findings to clinical therapeutics is accelerated through an extensive network of academic and industry collaborations.

Pediatric Brain Tumors
Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain tumor of childhood. It arises from cerebellar granule cell precursors, in some cases through mutations that lead to excess signaling of the sonic hedgehog pathway. In a multi-institutional collaborative study, we showed that one type of medulloblastoma (desmoplastic histology) overexpresses genes that are downstream of hedgehog and that another type (classic histology) is notable for overexpression of a small group of genes including the transcription factor, neuroD3/neurogenin (Pomeroy, 2001). Based on these studies, we are generating new mouse models of medulloblastoma and testing candidate drugs that interfere with the aberrant signaling pathways. For the latter goal, we lead a national consortium for pre-clinical analysis of new compounds. So far, we have demonstrated efficacy of two drug classes, retinoids and cyclopamine derivatives (Hallahan, 2003; Berman, 2002). Both effectively induce apoptosis in medulloblastoma cells derived from patient surgical samples and in established medulloblastoma cell cultures. We elucidated the mechanism by which retinoids induce apoptosis, providing a basis for understanding why some cells are sensitive to this agent and others are resistant. Based on these data, we are developing a national Phase III clinical trial through the Children’s Oncology Group to assess the efficacy of retinoids in children with high risk medulloblastoma/primitive neuroectodermal tumor.

Clinical Pharmacology
Dr. Olson is the author of “Clinical Pharmacology Made Ridiculously Simple,” a textbook geared toward medical students making the transition from classroom pharmacology to clinical pharmacology. The principles of pharmacology and the relationships that we have developed in research divisions of pharmaceutical companies accelerate translation of our basic research into clinical practice.


Children's Oncology Group
Children's Oncology Group Brain Tumor Resource Laboratory
Hereditary Disease Array Group
Hereditary Disease Foundation Scientific Advisory Board
Society for Neuroscience

Honors and Awards

Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator Award,
Burroughs Wellcome Career Award in Biomedical Sciences,
Child Health Research Center New Investigator Award,
American Academy of Pediatrics Resident Research Award,
Emily Dorfman Fellow, American Brain Tumor Association,

Previous Positions

2000-2004, Assistant Member, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Clinical Research


Recent Publications

Shih DJH, Northcott PA, Remke M, Korshunov A, Ramaswamy V, Kool M, Luu B, Yao Y, Wang X, Dubuc AM et al..  2014.  Cytogenetic Prognostication Within Medulloblastoma Subgroups.. Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Abstract
Cherry TJ, Wang S, Bormuth I, Schwab M, Olson JM, Cepko CL.  2011.  NeuroD factors regulate cell fate and neurite stratification in the developing retina.. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 31(20):7365-79. Abstract