News Releases

Hutchinson Center researcher receives first National Institutes of Health Director's Early Independence Award

Carissa Perez Olsen among 10 junior U.S. investigators to receive the award

SEATTLE — Sept. 30, 2011 — Carissa Perez Olsen, Ph.D., a Weintraub Scholar in the Basic Sciences Division of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is the recipient of the National Institutes of Health Director’s Early Independence Award, announced today. She is among the first group of 10 junior U.S. investigators to receive the honor. The NIH plans to commit approximately $19.3 million to support their research over a five-year period; Olsen will receive $1.25 million to support her research into the mechanisms of cancer, aging-related diseases and natural aging.

“The award of this grant is a tribute to Carissa’s success and recognizes her enormous potential as an independent researcher. The grant will jump-start her career and allow her to go straight from graduate student to faculty and bypass the usual postdoctoral fellowship stage,” said Jonathan Cooper, Ph.D., director of the Hutchinson Center’s Basic Sciences Division. “Her laboratory will be a valuable addition to our group of researchers who explore physiology, metabolism and aging.”

Carissa Perez Olsen, Ph.D.

Carissa Perez Olsen, Ph.D.

photo by Linsey Battan

Click for high-res version

The Early Independence Awards program effectively allows awardees to leapfrog over the traditional postdoctoral training period to capitalize in the creativity, confidence and energy of young scientists.

“The Early Independence Award enables outstanding investigators to establish their independent research careers as soon as possible,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “These Early Independence Award recipients have demonstrated exceptional scientific creativity and productivity.”

By studying a model organism called C. elegans – a tiny roundworm – Olsen’s research focuses on the membranes that are essential for all cellular life. Membranes are made of phospholipids, cholesterol and membrane proteins that together form a dynamic barrier that is vital to cellular survival. “The properties of a membrane can be dramatically affected by altering the composition of these components. Therefore, it is important to understand how proper composition of phospholipids is maintained in cellular membranes, because even small changes can impact the ability of the membrane to function properly,” Olsen said. Altered membrane composition has been observed in many disease states, including cancer, aging-related diseases and natural aging.

Olsen received her doctoral degree in June from the joint Hutchinson Center/University of Washington Molecular and Cellular Biology Program and she received her undergraduate degree at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She is a native of Oak Ridge, N.J.

Editor’s note: A color photo of Olsen in the laboratory is available upon request.

MEDIA CONTACT
Kristen Woodward
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
(206) 667-5095
kwoodwar@fhcrc.org

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