William George Nelson V, M.D., Ph.D.

Headshot of William George Nelson V
  • Director, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins
  • Professor of Oncology


Medical Oncology, Prostate Cancer

Research Interests

Inflammation and prostatic carcinogenesis; DNA methylation and epigenetic gene silencing; Cellular responses to DNA damage; Cellular defenses against carcinogens; Drug development; Prostate cancer; Urologic cancers ...read more

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Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center

Appointment Phone: 410-955-8964
401 N. Broadway
Baltimore, MD 21231
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Dr. William G. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor of urology, medicine, pathology, and radiation oncology and molecular radiation sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The Marion I. Knott Professor of Oncology, Dr. Nelson is also the Director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. He holds a joint appointment in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences.

Dr. Nelson is a recognized leader in translational cancer research. He specializes in the treatment and research of prostate cancer.

He and fellow Johns Hopkins colleagues 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 Hopkins.

Dr. Nelson was one of three co-chairs of the National Cancer Institute’s Translational Research Working Group, which worked to reengineer translational cancer science nationwide. He also has served on scientific advisory boards of several companies working to develop new cancer technologies and treatments. He is 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 Kimmel 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.

Dr. Nelson earned his medical degree and completed doctoral training at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He completed an internal medicine residency and a medical oncology fellowship at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

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  • Director, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins
  • Marion I. Knott Professor of Oncology
  • Professor of Oncology
  • Professor of Medicine
  • Professor of Pathology
  • Professor of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences
  • Professor of Radiation Oncology and Molecular Radiation Sciences
  • Professor of Urology

Departments / Divisions

Centers & Institutes



  • MD; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (1987)


  • Medicine; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (1989)


  • Oncology; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (1991)

Research & Publications

Research Summary

Normal and neoplastic cells respond to genome integrity threats in different ways, and the nature of these responses is critical for both cancer pathogenesis and cancer treatment.

DNA-damaging agents activate several signal-transduction pathways in damaged cells, which trigger cell-fate decisions such as proliferation, genomic repair, differentiation and death.

In normal cells, failure of a DNA-damaging agent (i.e., a carcinogen) to activate processes culminating in DNA repair or cell death might promote neoplastic transformation. In cancer cells, failure of a DNA-damaging agent (i.e., an antineoplastic drug) to promote differentiation or cell death might undermine cancer treatment.

Dr. Nelson’s laboratory has discovered the most common known somatic genome alteration in human prostatic carcinoma cells. The DNA lesion—hypermethylation of deoxycytidine nucleotides in the promoter of a carcinogen-defense enzyme gene—appears to inactivate the gene, making prostatic cells more vulnerable to carcinogens.

Current studies are directed at further characterizing the genomic abnormality and developing methods to restore expression of epigenetically silenced genes and/or to augment expression of other carcinogen-defense enzymes in prostate cells as prostate cancer prevention strategies.

Another major research interest is the role of chronic or recurrent inflammation as a cause of prostate cancer. Genetic studies of familial prostate cancer have identified defects in genes regulating host inflammatory responses to infections.

A newly described prostate lesion—proliferative inflammatory atrophy (PIA) – appears to be an early prostate cancer precursor. Current experimental approaches feature induction of chronic prostate inflammation in animal models, and monitoring the consequences on the development of PIA and prostate cancer.

Clinical Trial Keywords

prostate cancer

Selected Publications

View all on PubMed

Lin J, Haffner MC, Zhang Y, Lee BH, Brennen WN, Britton J, Kachhap SK, Shim JS, Liu JO, Nelson WG, Yegnasubramanian S, Carducci MA. "Disulfiram is a DNA demethylating agent and inhibits prostate cancer cell growth." Prostate. 2011 Mar 1;71(4):333-343.

De Marzo AM, Nelson WG, Bieberich CJ, Yegnasubramanian S, "Prostate cancer: New answers prompt new questions regarding cell of origin." Nat Rev Urol. 2010 Dec;7(12):650-652.

Haffner MC, Aryee MJ, Toubaji A, Esopi DM, Albadine R, Gurel B, Isaacs WB, Bova GS, Liu W, Xu J, Meeker AK, Netto G, De Marzo AM, Nelson WG, Yegnasubramanian S. "Androgen-induced TOP2B-mediated double-strand breaks and prostate cancer gene rearrangements." Nat Genet. 2010 Aug;42(8):668-675.

Iwata T, Schultz D, Hicks J, Hubbard GK, Mutton LN, Lotan TL, Bethel C, Lotz MT, Yegnasubramanian S, Nelson WG, Dang CV, Xu M, Anele U, Koh CM, Bieberich CJ, De Marzo AM. "MYC overexpression induces prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia and loss of Nkx3.1 in mouse luminal epithelial cells." PLoS One. 2010;5(2):e9427.

Menke A, Guallar E, Rohrmann S, Nelson WG, Rifai N, Kanarek N, Feinleib M, Michos ED, Dobs A, Platz EA, "Sex steroid hormone concentrations and risk of death in US men." Am J Epidemiol. 2010 Mar 1;171(5):583-592.

Contact for Research Inquiries

Weinberg Building
401 N. Broadway Street
Baltimore, MD 21231 map
Phone: 410-955-8822
Fax: 410-955-6787

Academic Affiliations & Courses

Graduate Program Affiliation

Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences,

Cellular and Molecular Medicine

Activities & Honors


  • National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Award in Writing , 1976
  • Henry Strong Denison Award for Medical Research, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine , 1982
  • Sandoz Award for Outstanding Research in Pharmacology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine , 1987
  • Warfield T. Longcope Prize for Excellence in Clinical Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine , 1987
  • Alpha Omega Alpha, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine , 1987
  • Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center Director’s Award for Education , 2004
  • Parkway School District Hall of Fame Inductee , 2004
  • American Academy of Physicians , 2014


  • American Association of Cancer Research
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology
  • American Society of Microbiology
  • Association for the Cure of Cancer of the Prostate (CaP CURE)

Professional Activities

  • Board of Directors, American Association of Cancer Research
  • Diplomate, American Board of Internal Medicine
  • Diplomate, American Board of Internal Medicine
  • President, National Coalition for Cancer Research
  • Scientific Advisory Board, Prostate Cancer Foundation
  • Scientific Advisory Committee, The V Foundation for Cancer Research

Videos & Media

Recent News Articles and Media Coverage

The Future of Personalized Cancer Medicine (CNN video)

Interview with William G. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D (American Association for Cancer Research video)

Epigenetics: A Symphony of Discovery | Science: Out of the Box

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