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Professorship Named for Willie
Published on Saturday, June 11, 2005 by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Texas)
Professorship Named for Willie

AUSTIN - Willie Nelson may not have thought that having his name on a highway "comports with his world view," but stem-cell research appears to be a different matter.

Next week, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas will announce that Dr. Eric Olson, chairman of the school's molecular biology department, will hold the first Annie and Willie Nelson Professorship in Stem Cell Research.

Olson pronounced the honor "pretty cool."

The Nelsons received the honor for helping raise about $250,000 for the stem-cell program at a March 4 concert in Grand Prairie.

UT Southwestern officials made a presentation about stem-cell research to Annie Nelson, the singer's wife, before Willie Nelson agreed to do the concert, Olson said.

"We knew his wife, Annie, is interested in stem-cell research just in general," he said.

A spokesman for Willie Nelson said Friday that he probably would not comment.

The UT Southwestern stem-cell program is about a year old, Olson said, and employs 11 researchers. He said the program is recruiting more researchers and has received donations from "substantial philanthropic institutions." He declined to name them.

For now, the UT Southwestern program isn't researching embryonic stem cells, the current flash point in the debate. Researchers are working with embryonic cells to try to develop treatments for diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's and spinal cord injuries. It also isn't working with adult stem cells, a widely accepted form of research.

Olson said UT Southwestern focuses on mouse stem cells to learn more about stem cells and "how their properties can be exploited to treat human diseases."

During the recent legislative session, state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, proposed naming the Texas 130 turnpike from Georgetown to Creedmoor after Nelson.

The turnpike also goes through the districts of Republican senators who pointed out Nelson's support for Democratic politicians, including backing presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 primaries. They also noted his unabashed fondness for marijuana and his troubles with the Internal Revenue Service.

Then, Nelson's lawyer wrote to Barrientos and asked him to put the brakes on the plan.

© 2005 Cox News Service


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