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William Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., Director


William Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., was named the Marion I. Knott Director and Professor of Oncology and Director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in December 2008. 

Dr. Nelson, who joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1992, is a Professor of Oncology, Urology, Pharmacology, Medicine, Pathology and Radiation Oncology. He specializes in the treatment and research of prostate cancer.

Cancer News Review Podcast

Dr. Nelson discusses the latest cancer news in the periodic podcast, Cancer News Review. Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or RSS.

Nationally Recognized Physician-Scientist

Dr. Nelson is a recognized leader in translational research for cancer. Along with fellow Johns Hopkins colleagues, he discovered the most common genome alteration in prostate cancer. The discovery led to new diagnostic tests for the disease and has fueled interest in new drug discovery and other treatment options, now ongoing at Johns Hopkins.

He was one of three co-chairs of the National Cancer Institute’s Translational Research Working Group, which worked to reengineer translational cancer science across the nation, and has been a member of the scientific advisory boards of several companies focused on the development of new technologies and treatments for human cancer, a member of the American Association of Cancer Research’s Board of Directors, President of the National Coalition for Cancer Research, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

At the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Nelson has served as the Associate Director for Translational Research and the Co-Director of the Prostate Cancer Program, and acts in a leadership role for the National Cancer Institute-funded Howard University Cancer Center-Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center Partnership Program, dedicated to building cancer research capabilities at Howard and to enhancing minority subject recruitment to cancer-research programs at Johns Hopkins.

Education and Training

Dr. Nelson received a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Yale University in 1980. In 1987, Dr. Nelson completed his medical degree and Ph.D. training at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and completed an Internal Medicine residency training and Medical Oncology fellowship at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Initially, Dr. Nelson did not plan to become a physician. Instead, he enrolled at Yale with thoughts of a career in law. But following his graduation, he worked as a laboratory technician with Yale dermatologist and cell biologist Joseph McGuire, an experience that promoted a life-changing commitment to medical research. McGuire, who had begun early clinical trials of retinoid-based drugs for a rare skin disease in children, engaged Dr. Nelson to further decipher the molecular biomarkers of the disease—research based on the field now called proteomics. Dr. Nelson’s interactions with the children on the study and his work in the laboratory set him on course for a career in medicine and scientific discovery.

Early Years and Family

Dr. Nelson was born in Philadelphia but raised in Town & Country, Missouri, where he was elected to his high school’s hall of fame along with Stone Phillips of Dateline NBC. He is one of four boys born to William Nelson, an economist and software CEO, and Linda Nelson, a behavioral scientist. Dr. Nelson resides in Baltimore with his wife Julia Ro, who works in film and video, and has three daughters.