Timothy Nelson, M.D., Ph.D.
Training integrates patient needs and technological development
Timothy J. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., participated in the Clinician-Investigator Program at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., from 2005 through 2010. He is currently a member of the program's executive committee, working with program director Karl A. Nath, M.D., to recruit new clinician-investigator fellows into the program.
"Dr. Nath is the reason I'm at Mayo Clinic," says Dr. Nelson, "and I remain committed to the success and growth of the program. It's vital to Mayo Clinic and to the next generation of medical care."
Dr. Nelson, who holds appointments in the Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, and Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, combined Ph.D. research with medical training at Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
"It was a natural extension to that training and to my career trajectory that I chose a residency program in clinical medicine that included extensive exposure to research," says Dr. Nelson. "A multidisciplinary team is required to do the work that clinician-investigators do today. It's not common to have an integrated research and clinical practice that is supported at all levels of training, as we do at Mayo.
"I chose Mayo's Clinician-Investigator Program because, while the many programs out there have their strengths, no other program so effectively integrates the needs of patients and offers a wealth of opportunities for technological development," says Dr. Nelson.
Dr. Nelson combined a career of research and medicine because of the potential impact on patient care — addressing the unmet needs of patients through research and advanced development of applications for the clinical setting.
"Clinician-investigator training provides the seamless integration that allows me to bridge research laboratory work with our clinical colleagues," says Dr. Nelson. "It's not about advancing an academic career, but positioning individuals to be unique team members."
Clinical trials in a dish
For Dr. Nelson, the most exciting aspect of his research is the technology of bioengineered stem cells. It allows investigators, for example, to create heart muscle from patients who have donated skin cells or to study stem cells in research and compare them to other patients without disease.
"It's a transformation in biomedical research — we can test drugs in a patient's heart and study the benefits and toxicity without ever giving that medication to the patient," says Dr. Nelson. "It revolutionizes the testing of novel therapies and new diagnostics."
Addressing the unmet needs of patients through research and development with application in clinics and hospitals is integral to Dr. Nelson's career ideal. For him, "Mayo Clinic has always epitomized that philosophy: Recognize what we don't know, find solutions and translate them into clinical care. It's the history and heritage of Mayo Clinic."