J. Lee Nelson, MD

faculty member

J. Lee Nelson, MD

Clinical Research Division, Fred Hutch

Fax: 206.667.5255
Mail Stop: D2-100

Dr. J. Lee Nelson studies microchimerism, a state in which cells exchanged by mother and child during pregnancy persist in both individuals for many years. Her interdisciplinary research team investigates the health consequences of this phenomenon.

In 1998, Dr. Nelson reported the first study linking an autoimmune disease with the lasting presence of fetal cells in mothers. Because women generally develop autoimmune diseases more often than men, these findings have led to a new avenue of investigation into a range of diseases in which the immune system begins attacking the body’s own tissues.

By learning more about microchimerism, Dr. Nelson hopes to help improve the success of blood stem cell and organ transplantation. Her team also investigates the role of microchimerism in cancer development, infectious diseases such as AIDS and complications of pregnancy.

Other Appointments & Affiliations

Professor of Medicine, Rheumatology
University of Washington

Affiliate Professor, Department of Genome Sciences
University of Washington


MD, University of California, Davis, 1977

BA, Philosophy, Stanford University, 1971

Research Interests

Dr. Nelson’s research group investigates immunologic consequences of maternal-fetal exchange during pregnancy and the legacy that maternal-fetal exchange creates for both individuals years later. A mother’s cells persist in her children into adult life and cells of fetal origin remain in the mother decades later. “Microchimerism” refers to harboring a small number of cells (or DNA) that originated in a genetically different individual.

"We're trying to home in on treatments. I would like to help alleviate suffering in some way."

 — Dr. J. Lee Nelson

Find a Clinical Trial

Dr. Nelson in the News

Cells from baby and rheumatoid arthritis

Science Spotlight - October 21, 2019

For the Media

The Media Relations team at Fred Hutch is available to assist members of the news media who would like to arrange interviews with faculty.

Email media@fredhutch.org or call 206.667.2210