Jessica Nielson, PhD

Health Data Science
Jessica Nielson

Fairview Riverside - west building
2312 S. 6th Street Suite F262
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

Dr. Nielson is a jointly appointed Assistant Professor in the Psychiatry Department and the Institute for Health Informatics. Dr. Nielson received her PhD from UC Irvine in 2010 in anatomy and neurobiology, and her postdoctoral training in bioinformatics and multivariate statistics at UC San Francisco. Dr. Nielson’s research involves working with animal and human data repositories for archived and ongoing trials aimed at precision diagnosis and treatment of several neurological disorders, including spinal cord injury (SCI), traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia. Dr. Nielson is also currently gathering preliminary data through an anonymous online survey to assess user-reported risks and benefits of ayahuasca therapy across various contexts, specifically related to the treatment of PTSD, depression and substance abuse.



Bioinformatics, topological data analysis


Awards & Recognition

  • 2018 - NIMH Early Stage Investigator
  • 2015 - Michael Goldberger Award, National Neurotrauma Society
  • 2015 - National Neurotrauma Society Travel Award
  • 2014 - Society for Neuroscience/Chapter Postdoctoral Fellow Travel Award
  • 2013 - NINDS NRSA Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship (F32)
  • 2011 - Lloyd Guth Award for Excellence in Graduate Research in Spinal Cord Injury
  • 2009 - Presentation Award, UCI Anatomy and Neurobiology Graduate Student Retreat
  • 2002-2003 - President’s List, Cal Poly Pomona
  • 2002-2003 - Dean’s List, Cal Poly Pomona


Professional Associations

  • 2007-present: Society for Neuroscience (SfN)
  • 2011-present: National Neurotrauma Society (NNS)
  • 2014-present: Reviewer for Journal of Psychiatric Research, Journal of Traumatic Stress Disorders & Treatment, PLoS One, Neuroscience Letters
  • 2017-present: Open Data Commons for Spinal Cord Injury (ODC-SCI) Steering Committee
  • 2017-present: American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA)
  • 2018-present: Editorial Board, NeuroCommons


Postdoc, Bioinformatics, University of California San Francisco


NRSA Post Doc, University of California, San Francisco

PhD, Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of California Irvine

BS, Biology, Cal Poly Pomona, Pomona, CA

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Research Summary/Interests

Dr. Nielson is a neurobiologist and data scientist working at the intersection of informatics and psychiatry to understand the neurobiological mechanisms of mental health disorders that follow trauma, including PTSD, depression, addiction and schizophrenia. She brings her expertise in neuroscience, big-data and precision medicine techniques to the University for data-driven discovery of clinically relevant models of maladaptive behaviors, with an interest in researching and developing novel therapies to treat the root causes of trauma.


Research Articles:

  1. Hirschi R, Hawryluk GWJ, Nielson JL, Huie JR, Zimmermann LL, Saigal R, Ding Q, Ferguson AR, Manley GT. Analysis of high-frequency PbtO2 measures in traumatic brain injury: insights into the treatment threshold. Journal of Neurosurgery. 2018 online.
  2. Yue JK, Robinson CK, Burke JF, Winkler EA, Deng H, Cnossen MC, Lingsma HF, Ferguson AR, McAllister TW, Rosand J, Burchard EG, Sorani MD, Sourabh S, Nielson JL, Satris GG, Talbott JF, Tarapore PE, Korley FK, Wang KKW, Yuh EL, Mukherjee P, Diaz-Arrastia R, Valadka AB, Okonkwo DO, Manley GT, and the TRACK-TBI Investigators. Apolipoprotein E epsilon 4 (APOE-? 4) genotype is associated with decreased 6- month verbal memory performance after mild traumatic brain injury. Brain and Behavior. 2017; e00791.
  3. Callahan A, Anderson KD, Beattie MS, Bixby JL, Ferguson AR, Fouad K, Jakeman LB, Nielson JL, Popovich PG, Schwab JM, Lemmon VP; FAIR Share Workshop Participants. Developing a data sharing community for spinal cord injury research. Exp Neurol. 2017 May 30; 295: 135-143. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2017.05.012. PMID: 28576567
  4. Zakrasek E, Nielson JL, Kosarchuk J, Crew J, Ferguson AR, McKenna S. Pulmonary outcomes following specialized respiratory management for acute cervical spinal cord injury: a retrospective analysis. Spinal Cord. 2017 June; 55(6): 559-565. doi: 10.1038/sc.2017.10. PMID: 28220822 PMCID: PMC5457341
  5. Nielson JL, Cooper SR, Yue JK, Sorani MD, Inoue T, Yuh EL, Mukherjee P, Vassar MJ, Lingsma HF, Gordon WA, Valadka AB, Okonkwo DO, Manley GT*, Ferguson AR*, and the TRACK-TBI Investigators. Uncovering precision phenotype-biomarker associations in traumatic brain injury using topological data analysis. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 3; 12(3):e0169490. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169490. PMID: 28257413 PMCID: PMC5336356
  6. Salegio EA, Bresnahan JC, Sparrey CJ, Camisa W, Fischer J, Leasure J, Buckley J, Nout-Lomas YS, Rosenzweig ES, Moseanko R, Strand SC, Hawbecker S, Lemoy MJ, Haefeli J, Ma X, Nielson JL, Edgerton VR, Ferguson AR, Tuszynski MH, Beattie MS. A unilateral cervical spinal cord contusion injury model in non-human primates (Macaca mulatta). J Neurotrauma. 2016 Mar 1; 33(5): 439-459. doi:10.1089/neu.2015.3956. PMID: 26788611 PMCID: PMC4799702
  7. Nielson JL, Paquette J, Kloke J, Liu AW, Guandique CF, Tovar CA, Inoue T, Irvine KA, Gensel JC, Petrossian TC, Lum PY, Carlsson GE, Manley GT, Young W, Beattie MS, Bresnahan JC, Ferguson AR. Topological data analysis for discovery in preclinical spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury. Nat Commun. 2015 Oct 14; 6, 8581. doi: 10.1038/ncomms9581. PMID: 26466022 PMCID: PMC4634208
  8. Friedli L, Rosenzweig ES, Barraud Q, Schubert M, Dominici N, Awai L, Nielson JL, Musienko P, Zhong H, Zdunowski S, Roy RR, Strand SC, van den Brand R, Havton LA, Beattie MS, Bresnahan JC, Bezard E, Bloch J, Edgerton VR, Ferguson AR, Curt A, Tuszynski MH, Courtine G. Pronounced species divergence in corticospinal tract reorganization and functional recovery after lateralized spinal cord injury favors primates. Sci Transl Med. 2015 Aug 26;7(302):301ra134. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aac5811. PMID: 26311729
  9. Nielson JL, Haefeli J, Salegio EA, Liu AW, Guandique CF, Stück E D, Hawbecker S, Moseanko R, Strand SC, Zdunowski S, Brock JH, Roy RR, Rosenzweig ES, Nout-Lomas YS, Courtine G, Havton LA, Steward O, Reggie Edgerton V, Tuszynski MH, Beattie MS, Bresnahan JC, Ferguson AR. Leveraging biomedical informatics for assessing plasticity and repair in primate spinal cord injury. Brain Res. 2015 Sept 4; 1619: 124-138. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2014.10.048. PMID: 25451131 PMCID: PMC4418964
  10. Ferguson AR, Nielson JL, Cragin MH, Bandrowski AE, Martone ME. Big data from small data: data-sharing in the 'long tail' of neuroscience. Nat Neurosci. 2014 Nov;17(11):1442-7. doi: 10.1038/nn.3838. PMID: 25349910 PMCID: PMC4728080
  11. Nielson JL, Guandique CF, Liu AW, Burke DA, Lash AT, Moseanko R, Hawbecker S, Strand SC, Zdunowski S, Irvine KA, Brock JH, Nout-Lomas YS, Gensel JC, Anderson KD, Segal MR, Rosenzweig ES, Magnuson DS, Whittemore SR, McTigue DM, Popovich PG, Rabchevsky AG, Scheff SW, Steward O, Courtine G, Edgerton VR, Tuszynski MH, Beattie MS, Bresnahan JC, Ferguson AR. Development of a database for translational spinal cord injury research. J Neurotrauma. 2014 Nov 1;31(21):1789-99. doi: 10.1089/neu.2014.3399. PMID: 25077610 PMCID: PMC4186058
  12. Irvine KA, Ferguson AR, Mitchell KD, Beattie SB, Lin A, Stuck ED, Huie JR, Nielson JL, Talbott JF, Inoue T, Beattie MS, Bresnahan JC. The Irvine, Beatties, and Bresnahan (IBB) Forelimb Recovery Scale: An Assessment of Reliability and Validity. Front Neurol. 2014 Jul 7;5:116. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2014.00116. PMID: 25071704 PMCID: PMC4083223
  13. Ferguson AR, Irvine KA, Gensel JC, Nielson JL, Lin A, Ly J, Segal MR, Ratan RR, Bresnahan JC, Beattie MS. Derivation of multivariate syndromic outcome metrics for consistent testing across multiple models of cervical spinal cord injury in rats. PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e59712. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059712. PMID: 23544088 PMCID: PMC3609747
  14. Nout YS, Rosenzweig ES, Brock JH, Strand SC, Moseanko R, Hawbecker S, Zdunowski S, Nielson JL, Roy RR, Courtine G, Ferguson AR, Edgerton VR, Beattie MS, Bresnahan JC, Tuszynski MH. Animal models of neurologic disorders: a nonhuman primate model of spinal cord injury. Neurotherapeutics. 2012 Apr;9(2):380-92. doi: 10.1007/s13311-012-0114-0. PMID: 22427157 PMCID: PMC3337011
  15. Nout YS, Ferguson AR, Strand SC, Moseanko R, Hawbecker S, Zdunowski S, Nielson JL, Roy RR, Zhong H, Rosenzweig ES, Brock JH, Courtine G, Edgerton VR, Tuszynski MH, Beattie MS, Bresnahan JC. Methods for functional assessment after C7 spinal cord hemisection in the rhesus monkey. Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2012 Jul-Aug;26(6):556-69. doi: 10.1177/1545968311421934. PMID: 22331214 PMCID: PMC3468651
  16. Ferguson AR, Stück ED, Nielson JL. Syndromics: a bioinformatics approach for neurotrauma research. Transl Stroke Res. 2011 Dec;2(4):438-54. doi: 10.1007/s12975-011-0121-1. PMID: 22207883 PMCID: PMC3236294
  17. Nielson JL, Strong MK, Steward O. A reassessment of whether cortical motor neurons die following spinal cord injury. J Comp Neurol. 2011 Oct 1;519(14):2852-69. doi: 10.1002/cne.22661. PMID: 21618218 PMCID: PMC3916191
  18. Nielson JL, Sears-Kraxberger I, Strong MK, Wong JK, Willenberg R, Steward O. Unexpected survival of neurons of origin of the pyramidal tract after spinal cord injury. J Neurosci. 2010 Aug 25;30(34):11516-28. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1433-10.2010. PMID: 20739574 PMCID: PMC2941508
  19. Chotiner JK, Nielson J, Farris S, Lewandowski G, Huang F, Banos K, de Leon R, Steward O. Assessment of the role of MAP kinase in mediating activity-dependent transcriptional activation of the immediate early gene Arc/Arg3.1 in the dentate gyrus in vivo. Learn Mem. 2010 Feb 13;17(2):117-29. doi: 10.1101/lm.1585910. PMID: 20154358 PMCID: PMC2825695

Book Chapters

  1. Nielson J.L., Ferguson A.R. TDA for discovery in preclinical spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury. 1st ed. Machine intelligence for healthcare, ed. F. Campion and G. Carlsson (2017). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
  2. Nielson J.L., Megler J.D. Ayahuasca as a candidate therapy for PTSD. The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca, ed. B.C. Labate and C. Cavnar. (2014). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
  3. Nielson J.L., Megler J.D. Consideration of Ayahuasca for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder. 1st ed. Manifesting Minds: A Review of Psychedelics in Science, Medicine, Sex, and Spirituality, ed. R. Doblin and B. Burge (2014). North Atlantic Books and Evolver Editions.


Academic Interests and Focus

My teaching interests focus on two main areas. The first is related to applied multivariate statistics and machine learning for precision medicine. The second is related to the neurobiology of emerging psychedelic therapies.


HINF 5394 - Directed Research


Clinical Interests

Neurological disorders (e.g. traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury) and mental health disorders (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, addiction and schizophrenia)