Personal profile

Personal profile

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


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

Professional Information

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.

Honors & Awards

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

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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