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Guillermo Oliver

2021 NAVBO Earl P. Benditt Award - Guillermo Oliver, Ph.D., Northwestern University

Guillermo Photo

The NAVBO Meritorious Awards Committee and Council are pleased to announce the selection of Guillermo Oliver, MS, PhD, as the 2021 recipient of the Earl P. Benditt Award in recognition of his numerous contributions to our understanding of the cell biology of the lymphatic system. Dr. Oliver is currently the Thomas D Spies Professor of Lymphatic Metabolism, the Director of the Center for Vascular and Developmental Biology and Director of the Regenerative Biology & Stem Cell Initiative at Northwestern University. He will present the Benditt Lecture, titled “Prox1 and lymphatics, a personal perspective,” and receive the award, one of NAVBO's highest honors, at Vascular Biology 2021 in Pacific Grove, California (October 24, 2021).

Dr. Oliver earned an MS (1983) at the Institute of Biomedical Research, National University of Mexico in Cuernavaca, and a PhD (1990) from the School of Sciences, University of Uruguay, Montevideo. His doctoral research, conducted under the mentorship of Edward De Robertis at UCLA, examined the role of homeobox genes in vertebrate pattern formation. Following stints on the faculty of the University of Uruguay and the staff of the Max Planck Institute of Biophysical Chemistry in Gottingen, he joined the faculty at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, rising to the rank of Professor in 2006. He moved to the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine in 2015, assuming the Spies Professorship and the leadership positions he now holds.

Among the most significant contributions Dr. Oliver has made in his research career is the characterization of the lymphatic system as a fluid-dynamic and developmental marvel, in essence rediscovering a vascular network which had been virtually ignored by researchers during the 20th century. In a seminal work published in Cell in 1999, his lab identified Prox1 as the first specific marker for lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) and described the first mouse model devoid of a lymphatic vasculature. Subsequently, his group proposed and demonstrated that blood endothelial cells (BECs) are the default condition from which LEC fate is induced by Prox1 (published in EMBO J, 2002) and that the LEC phenotype is plastic and reversible and requires constant expression of Prox1 to maintain its differentiated state (Genes & Dev, 2008). In 2007, his laboratory demonstrated that most embryonic LECs were venous-derived by using a detailed lineage tracing approach (Genes & Dev, 2007).

Across these years, his laboratory dissected the molecular mechanisms leading to the specification and differentiation of LECs during development. In a surprising twist, Dr. Oliver and his colleagues discovered that a defective lymphatic vasculature promotes obesity in mice (Nat Genetics, 2005). Importantly, in the Discussion section of that paper Dr. Oliver argued that, like Prox1+/− mice, individuals with subtle defects in the patterning and integrity of their lymphatic vasculature might not have overt symptoms of lymphatic dysfunction, and lymphatic abnormalities may therefore remain undetected. This visionary concept is currently becoming valid and relevant, as the functional roles of the lymphatic vasculature in pathophysiological conditions, including obesity, has been increasingly recognized in recent years, changing our conventional views about the roles of the lymphatic vasculature in health and disease. Morphological or functional defects in the lymphatic vasculature have now been uncovered in several pathological conditions supporting his original proposal that subtle, asymptomatic alterations in lymphatic vascular function could underlie the variability seen in the body’s response to a wide range of human diseases. More recently, work in progress in his lab identified an unexpected novel functional role of lymphatic-derived lympho-angiocrine factors in cardiac growth and repair.

Dr. Oliver and his collaborators have published over 120 peer-reviewed papers, and his research on Prox1 in mammalian lymphangiogenesis has earned NIH RO1 support for 18 consecutive years. He enjoys the great respect and admiration of his scientific peers for both his research accomplishments and his role as a mentor for young scientists. Notes of his award nominees: “The creation of the next generation of scientists is arguably the most important contribution a senior scientist can make, and in the case of Dr. Oliver he has populated an entire field of vascular biology. This is a lasting legacy for both Dr. Oliver and vascular biology that is in the true spirit of the Benditt award.”

Please join us at VB2021 at Asilomar this October to honor Dr. Oliver as he receives this well-deserved award.

Compiled by William R. Huckle,
NAVBO Editor

Read more about Dr. Oliver

Read more about the Benditt Award