Heather Hammond Nelson PhD » Faculty

Research Interests:

Associate Professor, 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