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Dr. Nelson is a board-certified internist and rheumatologist with a Master of Science in Clinical Research (MSCR) degree in Epidemiology.

Her first career development award (from the Rheumatology Research Foundation [RRF], 2009-12) focused on multiple joint OA, resulting in several publications, and forming the basis of her NIAMS K23 Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award focused on aspects of hip morphology as they related to osteoarthritis risk. She has expanded this work into other joint areas and unique analytic approaches to these large datasets, with national and international collaborators.

Through this work, Dr. Nelson has developed expertise in the application of novel machine learning methods to OA research, and serves as the Director of the Phenotyping and Precision Medicine Resource Core of the UNC Core Center for Clinical Research, as well as principal investigator of a NIAMS R21 on phenotyping methodology as applied to the Osteoarthritis Initiative dataset.

Dr. Nelson and Dr. Yvonne Golightly are co-principal investigators of the Johnston County OA Project (JoCoOA), a community-based prospective cohort of OA, multiple chronic conditions, pain and disability in Black and White men and women that has been ongoing since 1991. This large cohort has involved over 4000 unique individuals, selected to be representative of the population of this mixed rural and urban county over the last 30 years.

Building on this infrastructure, Drs. Nelson and Golightly are also leading the Johnston County Health Study (JoCoHS), a new cohort (~2000 total) that will add Hispanics and start at an earlier age (35+) to  capture the changing demographics of both the county and the US as a whole. These population-based studies are essential to providing accurate estimates of disease burden, including differences by sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other factors.

In 2019, Dr. Nelson completed an Innovative Research Award funded by the RRF, which provided the preliminary data for her successful R01 proposal, funded by NIAMS in May 2020, which supports acquisition and interpretation of knee ultrasound in the JoCoHS. This research work builds on Dr. Nelson’s clinical expertise in musculoskeletal ultrasound in Rheumatology (RhMSUS designee), including training the Rheumatology fellows in the use of ultrasound as well as serving on the ACR’s RhMSUS Oversight Committee.

Dr. Nelson has served on several NIH study sections, as a peer reviewer for multiple Rheumatology journals, and has authored 14 book chapters on OA and/or ultrasound, in addition to her research which includes over 60 peer-reviewed articles, over 60 peer-reviewed abstracts, numerous grants and invited lectures, and mentoring of over 20 trainees (medical and graduate students and Rheumatology fellows).