Bjorn R. Olsen, PhD

Bjorn R. Olsen, PhD

Harvard School of Dental Medicine
Bjorn R. Olsen, PhD

My laboratory studies skeletal and vascular morphogenesis, growth and remodeling/repair. Work is currently directed at three project areas.

In the first project, we study skeletal morphogenesis and growth. We are interested in genes that control differentiation of mesenchymal cells to chondrocytes and osteoblasts, the control of spatial patterns of mesenchymal condensations during skeletal development and tooth formation, the molecular mechanisms controlling the formation of ossification centers, the regulation of proliferation and differentiation of chondrocytes in growth plates, and molecular mechanisms responsible for accrual of bone mass and remodeling of the vertebrate skeleton. In addition to using knock-out, knock-in, and conditional knock-out mice in studies of specific genes, we make extensive use of genetic approaches in mice and humans. This includes mapping of inherited disorders, gene identification and mutation detection.

In the second project, we investigate the molecular basis for vascular morphogenesis, using a combination of human genetics of vascular tumors and malformation and studies of cells in culture. In addition, we study mice with inactivated alleles for collagens that are expressed in vascular cells, and use conditional knock-out techniques to inactivate VEGF and its receptors in mice.

In the third project, we are studying genetic causes of degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) in humans and mice. The approach involves identification of mutations responsible for early-onset osteoarthritis as part of inherited osteochondrodysplasias and cellular/molecular analyses of pathogenetic mechanisms.


Dr. Bjorn R. Olsen, Hersey Professor of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School and Dean for Research and Professor of Developmental Biology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, has made contributions to the fields of extracellular matrix biology, genetics, and cell and developmental biology. These contributions have earned him international recognition and acclaim.

A native of Skien, Norway, he received his medical and doctoral degrees from the University of Oslo in 1967, where he became a faculty member at the Anatomical lnstitute and conducted molecular studies on the structure of collagen. In 1971, he came to the United States to work with Dr. Darwin Prockop and one year later joined the faculty of the Department of Biochemistry, chaired by Dr. Prockop, at Rutgers Medical School, now UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, where he was promoted to the rank of Professor in 1976.

In 1985, he was appointed the Hersey Professor of Anatomy and Cellular Biology at Harvard Medical School, and this was changed to Hersey Professor of Cell Biology when the Anatomy and Physiology departments were merged to Department of Cell Biology. Since 1996, he has also been Senior member of the Staff at The Forsyth Institute and Professor of Developmental Biology and (since July 2005) Dean for Research at Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

Over the past 35 years, he has made fundamental contributions to research into the roles of the extracellular matrix in embryonic development, and skeletal and vascular cell and molecular biology. His research has furthered our understanding of diseases from dwarfism to congenital vascular anomalies, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, corneal dystrophy and retinal degeneration. His studies have uncovered fundamental roles of collagens, transcription factors and receptors that affect not only skeletal development, but also angiogenesis and blood vessel morphogenesis.

He has published over 300 papers in professional journals. He is a member of and has held leadership positions in several professional organizations, including the International Society for Matrix Biology (as President), and serves or has served on Editorial Boards of several major journals including Journal of Cell Biology, Journal of Biological Chemistry, and Development. He is currently Editor-in-Chief of Matrix Biology and BioMed Central's Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine.

His honors include election to the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and ScanBalt Academy, honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Oslo and University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, the Humboldt Research Award from Germany, and the Senior Research prize of the American Society of Matrix Biology.


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