Close-up of David Olson in his lab wearing safety glasses and gloves as he draws on a clear plexiglass board.
David Olson, founding director of the UC Davis Institute for Psychedelics and Neurotherapeutics, was recently given the Rising Star Award in Neurobiology of Psychedelics. (Courtesy of the UC Davis Institute for Psychedelics and Neurotherapeutics)

David Olson Receives Rising Star Award in Neurobiology of Psychedelics

It’s been a whirlwind opening year for the UC Davis Institute for Psychedelics and Neurotherapeutics and another accolade has come its way.

The Mahoney Institute for Neurosciences at the University of Pennsylvania recently gave David Olson, founding director of the UC Davis institute, its Rising Star Award in Neurobiology of Psychedelics. The award, according to Penn, honors a researcher “at the forefront of unraveling the mechanisms underlying the actions of psychedelics in the brain or translating these discoveries into interventions that preserve, restore and enhance brain function.”

"This award is really a reflection of the incredible creativity and passion of the many students and researchers at UC Davis who are pushing the field of psychedelic science in new and exciting directions,” said Olson, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine.

Olson received a plaque and a $10,000 honorarium, and delivered a presentation at The Mahoney Institute for Neurosciences 38th Annual Symposium last month.

Within the last five years, Olson and his colleagues have made pivotal contributions to the field of psychedelic science. In 2018, they demonstrated that psychedelics — like DMT, LSD and psilocin — promote neuroplasticity, highlighting the ability of these compounds to repair neural circuits affected by myriad mental health and neurodegenerative diseases. In follow-up studies, the team decoupled the therapeutic effects of psychedelics from their hallucinogenic properties. Eventually, they engineered the first non-hallucinogenic version of a psychedelic compound with therapeutic potential and developed a cellular assay to determine a compound’s hallucinogenic potential.

Building on this momentum to advance brain health, UC Davis launched the Institute for Psychedelics and Neurotherapeutics in early 2023. The institute is funded by an approximately $5 million investment from the deans of the College of Letters and Science and the School of Medicine, the vice chancellor for Research, and the Office of the Provost.

“The launch of the IPN will accelerate our efforts to identify novel approaches for improving mental health," Olson said.

In addition to advancing research in the psychedelic science realm, the Institute for Psychedelics and Neurotherapeutics will also unify academia and industry, creating a pipeline for the development, licensing and distribution of novel neurotherapeutics. Olson is the co-founder of Delix Therapeutics, a company dedicated to using these transformative compounds to treat neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

Delix has already raised over $100 million in venture capital funding and was named a top biotech startup by Nature Biotechnology, C&E News, the Sacramento Business Journal and Fierce Biotech, among other accolades.

Learn more about the UC Davis Institute for Psychedelics and Neurotherapeutics.    

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