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Erik R. Nelson

Profile picture for Erik R. Nelson

Contact Information

523 Burrill
407 South Goodwin Ave
Urbana, IL 61801
Office: (217) 244-5477
Lab: (217) 300-1418
Associate Professor of Molecular & Integrative Physiology


Erik Nelson is a professor of Molecular and Integrative Physiology and is affiliated with the Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cancer Center at Illinois (Urbana), University of Illinois Cancer Center (Chicago), as well as the Anticancer Discovery from Pets to People research theme within the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

Dr. Nelson has been named the 2020-2021 Gunsalus Scholar by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for his work on cholesterol metabolism and cancer.

Research Interests

Research Topics

Cell-Cell Interactions, Drug Discovery, Endocrinology, Metabolic Regulation, Regulation of Gene Expression, Signal Transduction

Disease Research Interests

Cancer, Drug Discovery

Research Description

Endocrine and Metabolic Control of Breast and Ovarian Cancer Pathophysiology

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.


2002 B.Sc. in Zoology, University of Calgary, Canada
2008 Ph.D. in Comparative Endocrinology, University of Calgary, Canada
2008-2014 Postdoctoral Associate, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC

Awards and 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
2016, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021 List of Teachers Ranked Excellent By Their Students
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

Highlighted Publications

Representative Publications

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. EndocrinologyLink to Paper

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 LettersLink to Paper

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 Link to Paper

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. EndocrinologyLink to Paper

Shahoei S.H., and Nelson E.R. (2019). Nuclear Receptors, Cholesterol Homeostasis and the Immune System. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular BiologyLink to Paper

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 Link to Paper

Nelson E.R., Wardell S.E., Jasper J.S., Park S., Suchindran S., Howe M.K.,Carver N.J., Pillai R.V., Sullivan P.M., Sondhi V., Umetani M., Geradts J., and McDonnell D.P. (2013). 27-Hydroxycholesterol Links Hypercholesterolemia and Breast Cancer Pathophysiology. Science. 342(6162):1094-8. PMID: 24288332. Link to Paper

Nelson E.R., DuSell C.D., Wang X., Howe M.K., Evans G., Michalek R.D., Rathmell J.C., Khosla S., Gesty-Palmer D., and McDonnell D.P. (2011). The oxysterol, 27-hydroxycholesterol, links cholesterol metabolism to bone homeostasis through its actions on the estrogen and liver X receptors. Endocrinology. 152(12): 4691-705. PMCID: PMC3230052.

Michalek R.D., Gerriets V.A., Nichols A.G., Inoue M., Kazmin D., Chang C-Y, Dwyer M., Nelson E.R., Pollizzi K.N., Ilkayeva O., Giguere V., Zuercher W.J., Powell J.D., Shinohara M.L., McDonnell D.P., Rathmell J.C. (2011). Estrogen Related Receptor-α is a Metabolic Regulator of Effector T cell Activation and Differentiation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 108(45): 18348-53. PMCID: PMC3215012

Recent Publications

Cross, T. W. L., Simpson, A. M. R., Lin, C. Y., Hottmann, N. M., Bhatt, A. P., Pellock, S. J., Nelson, E. R., Loman, B. R., Wallig, M. A., Vivas, E. I., Suchodolski, J., Redinbo, M. R., Rey, F. E., & Swanson, K. S. (2024). Gut microbiome responds to alteration in female sex hormone status and exacerbates metabolic dysfunction. Gut Microbes, 16(1), Article 2295429.

Bhatta, R., Han, J., Liu, Y., Bo, Y., Lee, D., Zhou, J., Wang, Y., Nelson, E. R., Chen, Q., Zhang, X. S., Hassaneen, W., & Wang, H. (2023). Metabolic tagging of extracellular vesicles and development of enhanced extracellular vesicle based cancer vaccines. Nature communications, 14(1), Article 8047.

Corbet, A. K., Bikorimana, E., Boyd, R. I., Shokry, D., Kries, K., Gupta, A., Paton, A., Sun, Z., Fazal, Z., Freemantle, S. J., Nelson, E. R., Spinella, M. J., & Singh, R. (2023). G0S2 promotes antiestrogenic and pro-migratory responses in ER+ and ER- breast cancer cells. Translational Oncology, 33, Article 101676.

Ghosh, S., Yang, R., Duraki, D., Zhu, J., Kim, J. E., Jabeen, M., Mao, C., Dai, X., Livezey, M. R., Boudreau, M. W., Park, B. H., Nelson, E. R., Hergenrother, P. J., & Shapiro, D. J. (2023). Plasma Membrane Channel TRPM4 Mediates Immunogenic Therapy–Induced Necrosis. Cancer Research, 83(18), 3115-3130.

Yu, L., Xu, L., Chu, H., Peng, J., Sacharidou, A., Hsieh, H. H., Weinstock, A., Khan, S., Ma, L., Durán, J. G. B., McDonald, J., Nelson, E. R., Park, S., McDonnell, D. P., Moore, K. J., Huang, L. J. S., Fisher, E. A., Mineo, C., Huang, L., & Shaul, P. W. (2023). Macrophage-to-endothelial cell crosstalk by the cholesterol metabolite 27HC promotes atherosclerosis in male mice. Nature communications, 14(1), Article 4101.

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