Erik Nelson's directory photo.

Erik Nelson

Associate Professor

Primary Affiliation

Extracellular Vesicle Imaging and Therapy


Status Affiliate Faculty

Home Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology




  • Biography

    Erik Nelson is an associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology. His primary affiliation is Extracellular Vesicle Imaging and Therapy.


    • B.Sc., zoology, University of Calgary, Canada, 2002

    • Ph.D., comparative endocrinology, University of Calgary, Canada, 2008

  • Honors
    • 2021: Named the Era of Hope Scholar by the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program

    • 2020: Named the 2020-2021 I.C. Gunsalus Scholar at the University of Illinois

    • 2013: National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award

    • 2013: Robert J. Fitzgerald Academic Achievement Award. Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University School of Medicine

    • 2012: The Endocrine Society Award for Outstanding Paper in Endocrinology for 2011

    • 2011: Robert J. Fitzgerald Scholar Award: Outstanding publication in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University Medical Center

    • 2009: Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program Postdoctoral Fellowship Award

    • 2008: Government of Alberta Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship

  • Research

    Research areas:

    • Cancer

    • Drug Discovery

    • Endocrinology 

    • Gene Regulation

    • Immunology 

    • Metabolism 

    • Molecular Pharmacology 

    • Signal Transduction

    Research interests:

    • Cell-cell interactions

    • Drug discovery

    • Endocrinology

    • Metabolic regulation

    • Regulation of gene expression

    • Signal transduction

    Patients with metastatic breast and ovarian cancer continue to have a very poor prognosis. The magnitude of this problem provides a strong impetus for studies that may lead to new chemopreventative strategies and/or lifestyle changes that reduce morbidity from these cancers. Therefore, the goal of our research is to elucidate the effects of the endocrine system and metabolism on breast and ovarian cancer initiation and progression. We integrate our expertise in physiology, endocrinology, immunology and in vivo models to pursue translational breast and ovarian cancer research.

    We have found that cholesterol metabolism plays critical roles in tumors, including in the immune cells that infiltrate tumors. We hope to leverage this knowledge to develop novel therapeutic approaches to treat breast and ovarian cancers.

    The major focuses of the lab are:

    • Using cholesterol biology to reprogram tumor associated immune cells.

    • Defining the mechanisms by which cholesterol metabolites impact tumor progression and metastasis.

    • Delineating the role of nuclear receptor signaling within the tumor microenvironment and its impact on tumor progression.

    • Determining what regulates extracellular vesicles.

  • 2022

    • Applegate, C. C., Deng, H., Kleszynski, B. L., Cross, T. W. L., Konopka, C. J., Dobrucki, L. W., Nelson, E. R., Wallig, M. A., Smith, A. M., & Swanson, K. S. (2022). Impact of administration route on nanocarrier biodistribution in a murine colitis model. Journal of Experimental Nanoscience, 17(1), 599-616.
    • Benoit-Lizon, I., Jacquin, E., Rivera Vargas, T., Richard, C., Roussey, A., Dal Zuffo, L., Martin, T., Melis, A., Vinokurova, D., Shahoei, S. H., Baeza Garcia, A., Pignol, C., Giorgiutti, S., Carapito, R., Boidot, R., Végran, F., Flavell, R. A., Ryffel, B., Nelson, E. R., ... Apetoh, L. (2022). CD4 T cell-intrinsic STING signaling controls the differentiation and effector functions of TH1 and TH9 cells. Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer, 10(1), [e003459].
    • Deng, H., Konopka, C. J., Prabhu, S., Sarkar, S., Medina, N. G., Fayyaz, M., Arogundade, O. H., Vidana Gamage, H. E., Shahoei, S. H., Nall, D., Youn, Y., Dobrucka, I. T., Audu, C. O., Joshi, A., Melvin, W. J., Gallagher, K. A., Selvin, P. R., Nelson, E. R., Dobrucki, L. W., ... Smith, A. M. (2022). Dextran-Mimetic Quantum Dots for Multimodal Macrophage Imaging In Vivo, Ex Vivo, and In Situ. ACS Nano, 16(2), 1999-2012.
    • Luo, M., Bao, L., Chen, Y., Xue, Y., Wang, Y., Zhang, B., Wang, C., Corley, C. D., McDonald, J. G., Kumar, A., Xing, C., Fang, Y., Nelson, E. R., Wang, J. E., Wang, Y., & Luo, W. (2022). ZMYND8 is a master regulator of 27-hydroxycholesterol that promotes tumorigenicity of breast cancer stem cells. Science Advances, 8(28), [abn5295].
    • Ma, L., Cho, W., & Nelson, E. R. (2022). Our evolving understanding of how 27-hydroxycholesterol influences cancer. Biochemical Pharmacology, 196, [114621].


    • Baek AE, Krawczynska N, Das Gupta A, Dvoretskiy SV, You S, Park J, Deng YH, Sorrells JE, Smith BP, Ma L, Nelson AT, McDowell HB, Sprenger A, Henn MA, Madak-Erdogan Z, Kong H, Boppart SA, Boppart MD, Nelson E.R. (2021). The cholesterol metabolite 27-hydroxycholesterol increases the secretion of extracellular vesicles which promote breast cancer progression. Endocrinology.


    • Ma L, Wang L, Nelson AT, Han C, He S, Henn MA, Menon K, Chen JJ, Baek AE, Vardanyan A, Shahoei SH, Park S, Shapiro DJ, Nanjappa SG, Nelson E.R.. (2020). 27-Hydroxycholesterol acts on myeloid immune cells to induce T cell dysfunction, promoting breast cancer progression. Cancer Letters.


    • He S., Ma L., Baek A.E., Vardanyan A., Vembar V., Chen J.J., Nelson A.T., Burdette J.E., and Nelson E.R. (2019). Host CYP27A1 expression is essential for ovarian cancer progression. Endocrine Related Cancer
    • Shahoei S.H., and Nelson E.R. (2019). Nuclear Receptors, Cholesterol Homeostasis and the Immune System. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
    • Shahoei, S.H., Kim, Y.C., Cler, S., Ma, L., Anakk, S., Kemper J.K. and Nelson E.R. (2019). Small Heterodimer Partner regulates dichotomous T cell expansion by macrophages. Endocrinology.


    • Baek A.E., Yu Y.R., He S., Wardell S.E., Chang C.Y., Kwon S., Pillai R.V., Thompson W., Dubois L.G., Sullivan P.M., Kemper J.K., Gunn M.D., McDonnell D.P., and Nelson E.R. (2017). The cholesterol metabolite 27-hydroxycholesterol facilitates breast cancer metastasis through its actions on immune cells. Nature Communications, 8(1):864. PMCID: PMC5636879