Erik Russell Nelson

Erik Russell Nelson

523 Burrill
407 South Goodwin Ave
Urbana, IL 61801
Office: (217) 244-5477
Lab: (217) 300-1418

Lab Page

Associate Professor of Molecular and Integrative Physiology

Research Topics

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

Disease Research Interests

Cancer, Drug Discovery


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.

Teaching Interests

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.


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.

Representative Publications

Complete Publication List

Google Scholar Profile

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. Link 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 Letters. Link 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. Endocrinology. Link to Paper

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

Complete Publications List