Brennan Olson

  • Current Program Year: MS3
  • Graduate, Physiology and Pharmacology Graduate Program, School of Medicine
  • M.D./Ph.D. Program Students, School of Medicine


Brennan Olson, PhD, is a current MS3 in the OHSU MSTP. His long-term goal is to become a physician-scientist with a clinical and basic science focus on head and neck cancer. His research prior to medical school included elucidating the role of B cell tolerance checkpoints in the development of human autoimmunity. As a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Daniel Marks, his focus was two-fold in identifying novel cancer-derived factors that mediate disease-associated wasting, or cachexia, and establishing robust model systems of cancer cachexia. Through this work, he identified Lipocalin 2 (LCN2) as a novel mediator of cancer-associated appetite suppression, demonstrating LCN2 levels were closely associated with muscle and fat wasting in both rodent and human cancer cachexia (Olson et al, Nature Communications 2021). Given the lack of clinically applicable head and neck cancer cachexia models, he next established a high-fidelity mouse model of HPV+ head and neck cancer cachexia (Olson et al, JCSM 2021). Clinically, his research is focused on identifying prognostic markers and risk-stratification techniques for patients with head and neck cancer, including sarcopenia, adipose wasting, and novel detection methods for tumor spread (Olson et al, JAMA Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery 2020). He plans to continue using these model systems and techniques to identify novel treatment strategies for patients suffering from head and neck cancer. In his spare time, he enjoys playing basketball, golf, and spending time with his family. 

Dissertation Title: Lipocalin 2 as a mediator of cancer cachexia

Education and training

    • B.A., 2013, Augustana College
    • Ph.D., 2021, Oregon Health & Science University

Memberships and associations:

  • American Association for Cancer Research
  • American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery
  • Society on Sarcopenia, Cachexia, and Wasting Disorders
  • Cancer Cachexia Society
  • American Physician Scientist Association

Areas of interest

  • Head and neck cancer
  • Metabolism
  • Immunometabolism
  • Cachexia and sarcopenia
  • Body composition/Nutrition

Honors and awards

  • F30 Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Fellowship Award, 2020
  • Melanoma Research Foundation Medical Student Grant
  • OHSU School of Medicine Innovation Fund Award
  • RSNA Research & Education Foundation’s Research Grant
  • N.L. Tartar Trust Fellowship
  • OHSU Exploratory Research Seed Grant
  • Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) Trainee Award (2017-2018), National Institute of Health


Selected publications

  • Olson B, Edwards J, Stone L, Jiang A, Zhu X, Holland J, Li R, Andersen P, Krasnow S, Marks DL, Clayburgh D. Association of Sarcopenia With Oncologic Outcomes of Primary Surgery or Definitive Radiotherapy Among Patients With Localized Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2020 Aug 1;146(8):714-722.
  • Olson B, Norgard MA, Levasseur PR, Zhu X, Marks DL. Physiologic and molecular characterization of a novel murine model of metastatic head and neck cancer cachexia. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2021 Jul 6. doi: 10.1002/jcsm.12745.
  • Olson B, Zhu X, Norgard MA, Levasseur PR, Butler JT, Buenafe A, Burfeind KG, Michaelis KA, Pelz KR, Mendez H, Edwards J, Krasnow SM, Grossberg AJ, Marks DL. Lipocalin 2 mediates appetite suppression during pancreatic cancer cachexia. Nat Commun. 2021 Apr 6;12(1):2057.
  • Olson B, Marks DL, Grossberg AJ. Diverging metabolic programmes and behaviours during states of starvation, protein malnutrition, and cachexia. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2020 Dec;11(6):1429-1446. 
  • Olson B, Diba P, Korzun T, Marks DL. Neural mechanisms of cancer cachexia. Cancers. 2021 Aug 12. 13(16):3990. 
  • Olson B, Zhu X, Norgard MA, Diba P, Levasseur PR, Buenafe AC, Huisman C, Burfeind KG, Michaelis KA, Kong G, Braun T, Marks DL. Chronic cerebral lipocalin 2 exposure elicits hippocampal neuronal dysfunction and cognitive impairment. Brain Behav Immun. 2021 Jul 8:S0889-1591(21)00266-X. 
  • Olson B, Marks DL. Pretreatment Cancer-Related Cognitive Impairment-Mechanisms and Outlook. Cancers (Basel). 2019 May 16;11(5):687. doi: 10.3390/cancers11050687. 
  • Stone L, Olson B, Mowery A, Krasnow S, Jiang A, Li R, Schindler J, Wax MK, Andersen P, Marks D, Achim V, Clayburgh D. Association Between Sarcopenia and Mortality in Patients Undergoing Surgical Excision of Head and Neck Cancer. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2019 Jul 1;145(7):647-654.
  • Michaelis KA, Norgard MA, Zhu X, Levasseur PR, Sivagnanam S, Liudahl SM, Burfeind KG, Olson B, Pelz KR, Angeles Ramos DM, Maurer HC, Olive KP, Coussens LM, Morgan TK, Marks DL. The TLR7/8 agonist R848 remodels tumor and host responses to promote survival in pancreatic cancer. Nat Commun. 2019 Oct 15;10(1):4682.


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