Heather Hammond Nelson PhD » Faculty

Biostatistics EnHS EpiCH HPM

Heather Hammond Nelson PhD

Associate Professor

School of Public HealthDivision of Epidemiology and Community Health

Home Masonic Cancer Center 554 MCRB East River Parkway Minneapolis MN 55455 USA Work Phone: (612) 626-9887
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Heather Nelson received her MPH from the University of Minnesota and a PhD in Cancer Biology from Harvard University.  She has a long-standing interest in cancer etiology, and the intersection of environmental exposures and genetics in increasing cancer susceptibility.  Her recent work has focused on inter-individual variation in immunity in cancer risk and outcome.  Specific cancers of interest include skin cancer, head and neck cancer, mesothelioma, bladder and lung cancer.

  • B.A., Hamline University
  • M.P.H., University of Minnesota
  • Ph.D., Harvard University

Professional Experience

  • 1998 – 1999:  Post-doctoral fellow, Molecular Epidemiology
  • 1999 – 2002: Research Associate, Department of Cancer Cell Biology
    Harvard School of Public Health
  • 2002 – 2007: Assistant Professor of Environmental Epidemiology
    Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health
  • 2007 – present: Associate Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota


  • 1990 – 1992. Walter Kenyon Scholarship in Biology, Hamline University
  • 1992, Walter Kenyon Award, Outstanding Senior in Biology, Hamline University
  • 1992, Magna Cum Laude, Hamline University
  • 1995, Histopathobiology of Neoplasia fellowship, American Association for Cancer Research
  • 1996 – 1998, Albert J. Ryan Fellow, Harvard University
  • 1996, Delta Omega Society
  • 1997, EMS Scholar Travel Award, Environmental Mutagen Society
  • 1998, AACR-Glaxo Wellcome Oncology Clinical Research Scholar Award, American Association for Cancer Research
  • 2001, First Decade Award, Hamline University
  • 2005, Junior Faculty Sabbatical Award, Harvard School of Public Health

Research Interests

  •  Genetic susceptibility to environmentally-induced cancers, including skin cancer, mesothelioma, head and neck cancer, bladder cancer and lung cancer
  • Inter-individual variation in immune function in cancer etiology and clinical outcome
  • Epigenetics in cancer etiology

Recent Publications

  • Welsh, M, Applebaum, K, Spencer, S, Perry, Karagas, MR, Nelson, HH. CTLA4 variants, UV-induced tolerance, and risk of non-melanoma skin cancer. Cancer Res 69:6158-63, 2009.  PMCID:2928067
  • Karagas, MR, Waterboer, T, Li, Z, Nelson, HH, Michael, KM, Bavinck, JN, Perry, AE, Spencer, SK, Daling, J, Green, AC,Pawlita, M.Genus beta human papillomaviruses and the incidence of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas of the skin: population based case-control study.   BMJ 341:c2986, 2010. PMCID:2900549
  • Chistensen, BC, Kelsey, KT, Zheng, S, Houseman, EA, Marsit, CJ, Wrensch, MR, Wielmels, JL, Nelson, HH, Karagas, RM, Kushi, LH, Kwan, ML, Wiencke, JK. Breast Cancer DNA methylation profiles are associated with tumor size and alcohol and folate intake.  PLoS Genetics 6(7):e:1001043, 2010. PMCID:2912395
  • Gee, GV, Stanifer, ML, Christensen, BC, Atwood, WJ, Ugolini, D, Bonassi, S, Resnick, MB, Nelson, HH, Marsit, CJ, Kelsey, KT.  SV40 associated miRNAs are not detectable in mesotheliomas.  Br J Cancer 103:885-8, 2010. PMCID:2966630
  • Tao, L, Xiang, YB, Wang, R, Nelson, HH, Gao, YT, Chan, KK, Yu, MC, Yuan, JM.  Environmental tobacco smoke in relation to bladder cancer risk – the Shanghai Bladder Cancer Study.  Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, 19(12):3087-95, 2010. PMCID:3003610.
  • Almquist, LM, Karagas, MR, Christensen, BC, Welsh, MM, Perry, AE, Storm, C, Nelson, HH. The role of TP53 and MDM2 polymorphisms in TP53 mutagenesis and risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.  Carcinogenesis 32(3):327-30, 2011
  •  Christensen, BC, Smith, AA, Zheng, S, Koestler, DC, Houseman, EA, Marsit, CJ, Wiemels, JL, Nelson, HH, Karagas, MR, Wrensch, MR, Kelsey, KT, Wiencke, JK.  DNA methylation, isocitrate dehydrogenase mutation, and survival in glioma.  J Natl Cancer Inst 103(2):143-53, 2011.  PMCID:3022619
  • Cash, HL, Tao, L, Yuan, JM, Marsit, CJ, Houseman, EA, Xiang, Y-B, Gao, YT, Nelson, HH, Kelsey, KT. LINE-1 hypomethylation is associated with bladder cancer risk among non-smoking Chinese.  Int J Cancer epub March 28, 2011
  • Welsh, MM, Karagas, MR, Kuriger, T, Houseman, EA, Spencer, SK, Perry, AE, Nelson, HH. Genetic determinants of UV-susceptibility in non-melanoma skin cancer. PLoS One 6(7):e20019, epub Jul 8 2011
  • 10. Nelson, HH, Marsit, CJ, Kelsey, KT.  “Global methylation” in exposure biology and translational medical science. Env Health Perspectives, epub Jun 13 2011
  • 11. Nelson, HH, Almquist, LM, LaRocca, JL, Plaza, SL, Lambert-Messarlian, G, Sugarbaker, DJ, Bueno, R, Godleski, JJ, Marsit, CJ, Christensen, BC, Kelsey, KT.   The relationship between tumor MSLN methylation and serum mesothelin (SMRP) in mesothelioma. Epigenetics 6(8), 2011
  • 12. Koh, WP, Nelson, HH, Yuan, JM, Van den Berg, D, Jin, A, Wang, R, Yu, MC.  Glutathione S-transferase (GST) gene polymorphisms, cigarette smoking and colorectal cancer risk among Chinese in Singapore. Carcinogenesis 2011 (epub Jul 29).
  • 13. Yuan, J-M, Gao, Y-T, Murphy, SE, Carmella, SG, Wang, R. Zhong, Y, Moy, KA, Davis, AB, Tao, L, Chen, M, Han, S, Nelson, HH, Yu, MC, Hecht, SS. Urinary levels of cigarette smoke constituent metabolites are prospectively associated with lung cancer development in smokers. Cancer Res, 71:6749-57, 2011
  • 14. Kontic, M, Stojsic, J, Jovanovic, D, Bunjevacki, Ognjanovic, S, Kuriger, J, Puumala, S, Nelson, HH. Aberrant promoter methylation of CDH13 and MGMT genes is associated with clinicopathological characteristics of primary non-small cell lung cancer.  Clinical Lung Cancer, in press.
  • 15. Nelson, HH, Marsit, CJ, Christensen, BC, Houseman, EA, Kontic, M, Wiemels, J, Karagas, MR, Wrensch, MR, Zheng, S, Wiencke, JK, Kelsey, KT.  Key epigenetic changes associated with NSCLC development: results from dense methylation array profiling.  (Epigenetics)
  • 16. Puumala, SE, Nelson, HH, Ross, JA, Nguyen, RHN, Damario, MA, Spector, LG. Similar DNA methylation levels in specific imprinting control regions in children conceived with and without ART (BMC Pediatrics)
  • 17. Poage, GM, Butler, RA, Houseman, EA, McClean, MD, Nelson, HH, Christensen, BC, Marsit, CJ, Kelsey, KT. Identification of an epigenetic profile classifier derived from the local DNA sequence context that is associated with head and neck cancer survival. Cancer Res 72(11):2728-37, 2012
  • 18. Houseman EA, Accomando WP, Koestler DC, Christensen BC, Marsit CJ, Nelson HH, Wiencke JK, Kelsey KT.  DNA methylation arrays as surrogate measures of cell mixture distribution.  BMC Bioinformatics 13(1):86, 2012 (Epub May 8).
  • 19. Inoue-Choi, M, Nelson, HH, Robien, K, Arning, E, Bottiglieri, T, Koh, W-P, Yuan, J-M.  Determinants of plasma S-adenosylmethionine concentrations in middle-aged and older Chinese in Singapore: The Singapore Chinese Health Study.  (Am J Clin Nutr)
  • 20. Koestler, DC, Marsit, CJ, Christensen, BC, Accomando, W, Langevin, SM, Houseman, EA, Nelson, HH, Karagas, MR, Wiencke, JK, Kelsey, KT. Peripheral blood immune cell methylation profiles are associated with nonhematopoietic cancers.  Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers and Prev 21(8):1293-302, 2012
  • 21. Accomando, WP, Wiencke, JK, Houseman, EA, Butler, RA, Zheng, S, Nelson, HH, Kelsey, KT. Decreased NK cells in patients with head and neck cancer determined in archival DNA.  Clin Cancer Res, 18(22):6147-54. 2012
  • 22. Liang, C, Marsit, CJ, McClean, M, Nelson, HH, Christensen, BC, Haddad, RI, Clark, JR, Wein, RO, Grillone, GA, Houseman, AE, Halec, G, Waterboer, T, Pawlita, M, Krane, J, Kelsey, KT. Biomarkers of HPV in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Cancer Res 72(19):5004-13, 2012
  • 23. Wiencke, JK, Accomando, WP, Zheng, S, Patoka, J, Dou, X, Phillips, JJ, Hsuang, G, Christensen, BC, Houseman, AE, Koestler, DC, Bracci, PM, Wiemels, JL, Wrensch, MR, Nelson, HH, Kelsey, KT. Epigenetic biomarkers of T-cells in human glioma. Epigenetics, 7(12):1391-402, 2012.
  • 24. Nielsen, SS, Checkoway, H, Butler, RA, Nelson, HH, Farin, FM, Longstreth, WT, Franklin, GM, Swanson, PD, Kelsey, KT.  LINE-1 DNA methylation and risk of Parkinson Disease. J Parkinsons Dis 2(4)303-8, 2012
  • 25. Farzan, S, Waterboer, T, Gui, J, Nelson, HH, Li, Z, Michael, KM, Perry, AE, Spencer, SK, Green, AC, Pawlita, M, Karagas, MR. Cutaneous alpha, beta and gamma human papillomaviruses in relation to basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma incidence.  Int J Cancer, 133(7):1713-20, 2013
  • 26. Inoue-Choi, M, Nelson, HH, Robien, K, Arning, E, Bottigileri, T, Koh, W-P, Yuan, J-M. Plasma S-adenosylmethionine, DNMT polymorphisms and peripheral blood LINE-1 methylation among healthy Chinese adults in Singapore. BMC Cancer 13(1):389 (Epub Aug 2013)
  • 27. Langevin, SM, Michaud, DS, Marsit, CJ, Nelson, HH, Birnbaum, AE, Eliot, M, Christensen, BC, McClean, MD, Kelsey, KT. Gastric reflux is an independent risk factor for laryngopharyngeal carcinoma. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 22(6):1061-8, 2013
  • Thyagarajan, B, Wang, R, Nelson, HH, Barcelo, H, Koh, W-P, Yuan, JM. Mitochondrial DNA copy number is associated with breast cancer risk.  Plos One, 2013
  • Poytner, JN, Christensen, BC, Amatruda, JF, Hooten, AJ, Nelson, HH, Kuriger, J, Gulbache, HE, Frazier, AL, Ross, JA. DNA methylation patterns distinguish histologic subtypes of pediatric germ cell tumors. BMC Cancer, 2013