J. Lee Nelson, MD is a Member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington. She heads a research group that has a primary goal of elucidating the beneficial and detrimental effects of maternal-fetal cell exchange. Dr. Nelson began her work looking into how pregnancy frequently induces remission/improvement of the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis for most women. More recently she spearheaded a new area of work investigating long-term consequences of naturally acquired microchimerism. Microchimerism refers to harboring a small number of cells (or DNA) that originated in a genetically disparate individual. The most common sources of microchimerism are maternal cells in her progeny and cells of fetal origin in women who have been pregnant. Initial studies of microchimerism focused on the autoimmune diseases rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma but the works has since extended to other diseases including cancer. The current research team is interdisciplinary, investigating microchimerism in autoimmune disease, reproduction and cancer. The interdisciplinary team she works with includes Assistant Professor VK Gadi, MD PhD, a scientist/physician who works on microchimerism in cancer and transplantation immunology, and Assistant Professor Hilary Gammill, MD, a scientist/physician who works on microchimerism in maternal-fetal medicine and other aspects of pregnancy immunology. For a broad overview of the work see "Your cells are my cells" Scientific American 2008 Feb 298(2) 64-71.
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