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Randall J Olson, MD, Honored as University of Utah Distinguished Professor

Randall J Olson, MD
Randall J Olson, MD

The University of Utah has honored John A. Moran Eye Center CEO and Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences Professor and Chair Randall J Olson, MD, with the rank of Distinguished Professor.

The distinction is reserved for faculty whose achievements exemplify the highest goals of scholarship as demonstrated by recognition accorded to them from peers with national and international stature, and whose record includes evidence of a high dedication to teaching as demonstrated by recognition accorded to them by students and/or colleagues.

More than 40 years of Leadership

Olson joined the University’s School of Medicine in 1979 as a one-person Division of Ophthalmology. Over four decades, he grew the program into one of the world’s top vision institutes, conducting cutting-edge research and providing comprehensive care in all ophthalmic subspecialties. Today the Moran Eye Center counts more than 140,000 patient visits annually and is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s Best Hospitals for Ophthalmology.

Landmark Research

Olson is recognized as an international expert in cataract surgery and the synthetic intraocular lenses (IOLs) used to replace the eye’s natural lens during cataract and other surgeries. He founded the Intermountain Ocular Research Center to fund studies on IOL design, materials, and complications in 1982. The center was far ahead of its time as outcomes using the new lens technology were unacceptably poor. Both academia and the National Institutes of Health had declined to fund IOL research. The result has been a peerless body of work with over 200 peer-reviewed publications that guide companies and physicians worldwide in vetting new IOL technology and potential complications through the center.

In his most recent landmark research contribution, Olson pioneered using porcine lens tissue for research evaluating various phacoemulsification techniques for cataract removal. His leading research in this area includes working with residents and mentees, with frequent presentations to the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. In total, Olson has authored or co-authored 288 peer-reviewed articles in addition to 72 book chapters and 55 other articles. He has also invented surgical instruments and a hypodermic needle system and method to reduce surgical infection.

Innovative Approaches to Developing New Therapies

Committed to advancing personalized medicine approaches that hold promise for treating devastating inherited eye diseases, Olson established the Center for Translational Medicine at the Moran Eye Center. Today, the Sharon Eccles Steele Center for Translational Medicine stands as a synergistic model for funding research through partnerships between university departments, international academic collaborators, and private industry. This allows multiple phases of the drug discovery process to run simultaneously, moving discoveries more quickly and efficiently into clinical trials.

Ending Curable Blindness Worldwide

Beyond his efforts to create excellent clinical care and translational research, Olson has supported his faculty members in their pursuit to end preventable and curable blindness in Utah and around the world with Moran’s Global Outreach Division. Moran was the first ophthalmic academic medical center in the country to establish a fellowship in global outreach. Every Moran resident is guaranteed an opportunity to train in an underserved region of the world as part of Olson’s commitment to developing empathy and compassion in Moran’s trainees.

A Decorated Career

In 2019, Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert awarded Olson a Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology in the Academic/Research category to recognize his contributions to the state. A past president of the association of University Professors of Ophthalmology, Olson has also received many of the most prestigious recognitions in ophthalmology:

  • 2012 American Society of Refractive Surgery Binkhorst Medal
  • 2014 University of Utah Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence
  • 2014 American Association of Ophthalmology (AAO) Kelman Award
  • 2015 AAO Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2016 Intra-Ocular Implant Club Jan Worst Medal
  • 1992 to Present:  Listed in Castle Connolly Top Doctors 

“Dr. Olson is truly an extraordinary physician, researcher, teacher, mentor, and leader known throughout our state, nation, and world for his many contributions to visual science,” wrote Kathleen B. Digre, MD, in her nomination of Olson. “His remarkable achievements and their impact on the University of Utah, the state of Utah, and the field of ophthalmology are cause for recognition and celebration.”