Frank L. Margolis, PhD

Honorary Student Marshal

MargolisFrank L. Margolis learned the value of collaboration many years before it became a core value at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. After joining the University of Maryland School of Medicine (SOM) as a professor in 1995, he saw his research continue to thrive, with the help of others at the school.

“My research program continued to flourish as I was able to interact and collaborate with various new colleagues in my home department [of Anatomy and Neurobiology] and in the departments of biochemistry, molecular microbiology and immunology, ophthalmology, and others,” says Margolis. “I’ve enjoyed what has proven to be a very productive and rewarding tenure, and I owe a lot to my students, postdocs, and colleagues.”

As the author of more than 150 publications and nearly as many abstracts, Margolis and his lab have studied the responses of sensory systems, and in particular the olfactory system, which is responsible for our sense of smell.

“The sense of smell is critical for detection of both pleasurable odors such as food and flowers but also for odors that warn of danger, such as cooking gas, skunks, and spoiled food,” says Margolis, an internationally recognized expert in olfactory research who came to the SOM after more than 25 years at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in New Jersey. “Thus, loss of the sense of smell results in decrements in enjoyment and safety.”

In addition, it can raise other health red flags. “Loss of the sense of smell can be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease and is also associated with traumatic brain injury,” Margolis says. “We have characterized various changes in the anatomy, molecular biology, and behavior in this sense in several animal models both in adults and during development.”

Margolis’ lab, which has been awarded roughly $6 million in funding since his arrival, has achieved numerous breakthroughs. Margolis and his colleagues discovered a protein called OMP (Olfactory Marker Protein), uniquely expressed in mature olfactory sensory neurons. Further molecular investigations led to identification of Bex1, a protein that interacts with OMP, providing additional insight into the mechanism of odor detection. In addition, the Bex1 protein has recently been identified as an oncofetal protein and a tumor suppressor gene, thus opening up a range of intriguing possibilities for further research.

It will be left to others to complete it. Margolis formally retired in February 2015 and now, as professor emeritus, serves on several PhD thesis committees, as director of the MS Program in Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Science (formerly the MS Program in Molecular Medicine), and performs other administrative activities at the SOM.

Aside from his research, among his fondest memories are of mentoring students during his nearly six years as the director of graduate studies for the PhD Program in Neuroscience and for the past few years as director of the MS program.

“Mentoring students and postdoctoral fellows has been a very rewarding aspect of my activities here at the School of Medicine,” Margolis says. “It is a great pleasure to see the growth of students as they develop into full-fledged scientists and colleagues. My trainees have gone on to become faculty at various schools and physician-scientists in academic centers, both in the U.S. and internationally.”

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