I received my BS in biology from Cal Poly Pomona, CA; completed my PhD from UC Irvine in 2010 in anatomy and neurobiology, and my postdoctoral training in bioinformatics and multivariate statistics at UC San Francisco. I became a jointly appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and the Institute for Health Informatics at the University of Minnesota in 2017.
The overarching purpose of my lab is to understand and treat trauma. Research in my lab utilizes a multidisciplinary approach, merging the fields of neurobiology, psychiatry, and data science to identify more precise "bio-types" of trauma psychopathology than traditional diagnostic criteria, and potential novel targets for treatment. I use established and emerging machine learning methods with multi-modal data spanning a diverse range of diagnostic categories for neuropsychiatric disorders.
Other areas of focus in my lab are dedicated to psychedelic neuroscience research and drug policy reform. I have been collecting data through an anonymous online survey to assess the benefits and risks of ayahuasca use in naturalistic settings to treat symptoms of trauma. I am also conducting prospective clinical research into the neurological mechanisms of altered states of consciousness, currently with the drug psilocybin, to understand how such drug-induced experiences promote neuroplasticity.
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-assisted therapies.
- Health informatics
- Psychedelic neuroscience; the therapeutic potential of hallucinogens
- Criminal justice reform regarding drug use
(for academic support only)
In the Media
- 2023: Quoted in this New York Times article titled, “Minneapolis Mayor Loosens Enforcement of Psychedelics,” and in this WCCO radio interview titled, “Minneapolis allows for the use of psychoactive plants such as mushrooms”.
- 2022: Featured in this MPR interview titled, "Could psychedelics be the future of mental health?"
- 2022: Featured in this KARE 11 TV interview titled, "Shroom boom: Studies show 'magic mushrooms' can relieve severe depression".
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.
Dr. Nielson's areas of teaching expertise revolve around two primary domains. The initial area pertains to the application of multivariate statistics and machine learning within the realm of precision medicine. The second area delves into the neurobiology underlying emerging psychedelic therapies.
Dr. Nielson's clinical interests include 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)