Jessica Nielson

Assistant Professor


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
  • Neurotrauma
  • Psychedelic neuroscience; the therapeutic potential of hallucinogens 
  • Criminal justice reform regarding drug use

Administrative Assistant

(for academic support only)
Teneshia Collins

In the Media

Research Summary

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.

Teaching Summary

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.

Clinical Summary

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)


Post Doc, University of California, San Francisco
Major: Bioinformatics & Multivariate Statistics
PhD, University of California, Irvine
Major: Anatomy & Neurobiology
NRSA Post Doc, University of California, San Francisco
Major: Neurosurgery
BS, Cal Poly Pomona
Major: Biology

Licensures and Certifications

DEA Schedule 1 License, Psilocybin

Honors and Recognition

Heffter Young Investigator Award
Michael Goldberger Award, National Neurotrauma Society
NIMH Early Stage Investigator
Society for Neuroscience/Chapter Postdoc Travel Award, Society for Neuroscience
Travel Award, National Neurotrauma Society
NIH NRSA Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship (F32) (multiple)
Lloyd Guth Award for Excellence in Graduate Research
Presentation Award, UCI Grad Student Retreat
President's List, Cal Poly Pomona
Dean's List, Cal Poly Pomona

Professional Memberships

International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
National Neurotrauma Society
Open Data Commons for Spinal Cord Injury (ODC-SCI)
Society for Neuroscience
Selected Publications

Selected Publications

Nielson, J. L., Cooper, S. R., Seabury, S. A., Luciani, D., Fabio, A., Temkin, N. R., Ferguson, A. R., 2020. Statistical Guidelines for Handling Missing Data in Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Research. Journal of Neurotrauma,
doi: PubMed ID: 32008424.
Fouad, K., Bixby, J. L., Callahan, A., Grethe, J. S., Jakeman, L. B., Lemmon, V. P., Magnuson DSK, Martone, M. E., Nielson, J. L., Schwab, J. M., Taylor-Burds, C., Tetzlaff, W., Torres-Espin, A., Ferguson, A. R., 2020. FAIR SCI Ahead: The Evolution of the Open Data Commons for Pre-Clinical Spinal Cord Injury Research. Journal of Neurotrauma, 37 (6): 831-838.
doi: PubMed ID: 31608767.
Hirschi, R., Hawryluk, Gregory W. J., Nielson, J. L., Huie, J. R., Zimmermann, L. L., Saigal, R., Ding, Q., Ferguson, A. R., Manley, G., Analysis of high-frequency PbtO2 measures in traumatic brain injury: insights into the treatment threshold. JOURNAL OF NEUROSURGERY, 131 (4): 1216-1226.
doi: PubMed ID: 30497191.
Callahan, A., Anderson, K. D., Beattie, M. S., Bixby, J. L., Ferguson, A. R., Fouad, K., Jakeman, L. B., Nielson, J. L., Popovich, P. G., Schwab, J. M., Lemmon, V. P, 2017. Developing a data sharing community for spinal cord injury research. Experimental Neurology, 295 135-143.
Yue, J. K., Robinson, C. K., Burke, J. F., Winkler, E. A., Deng, H., Cnossen, M. C., Lingsma, H. F., Ferguson, A. R., McAllister, T. W., Rosand, J., Burchard, E. G., Sorani, M. D., Sharma, S., Nielson, J. L., Satris, G. G., Talbott, J. F., et al., Apolipoprotein E epsilon 4 (APOE ‐ ε4) genotype is associated with decreased 6‐month verbal memory performance after mild traumatic brain injury. Brain and Behavior, 7 (9): e00791.
doi: PubMed ID: 28948085.
Zakrasek, E. C., Nielson, J. L., Kosarchuk, J. J., Crew, J. D., Ferguson, A. R., McKenna, S. L., 2017. Pulmonary outcomes following specialized respiratory management for acute cervical spinal cord injury: a retrospective analysis. Spinal Cord, 55 (6): 559-565.
doi: PubMed ID: 28220822.
Nielson, J. L., Cooper, S. R., Yue, J. K., Sorani, M. D., Inoue, T., Yuh, E. L., Mukherjee, P., Petrossian, T. C., Paquette, J., Lum, P. Y., Carlsson, G. E., Vassar, M. J., Lingsma, H. F., Gordon, W. A., Valadka, A. B., Okonkwo, D. O., et al., 2017. Uncovering precision phenotype-biomarker associations in traumatic brain injury using topological data analysis. PloS one, 12 (3): e0169490.
Beattie, M., Pan, J. Z., Torres, D., Lin, A., Sacramento, J., Haefeli, J., Nielson, J. L., Suen, C. G., Talbott, J. F., W, W., Manley, G. T., Dhall, S., Ferguson, A. R., Bresnahan, J. C., 2016. TRACK-SCI: Comparison of blood pressure (BP) predictors of outcome in rodents and humans after SCI. Journal of Neuroblastoma, 33 (13): A-119.
Salegio, E. A., Bresnahan, J. C., Sparrey, C. J., Camisa, W., Fischer, J., Leasure, J., Buckley, J., Nout-Lomas, Y. S., Rosenzweig, E. S., Moseanko, R., Strand, S., Hawbecker, S., Lemoy, M. J., Haefeli, J., Ma, X., Nielson, J. L., Edgerton, V. R., et al., 2016. Unilateral Cervical Spinal Cord Contusion Injury Model in Non-Human Primates (Macaca mulatta). Journal of Neurotrauma, 33 (5): 439-459.
doi: PubMed ID: 26788611.
Nielson, J. L., Paquette, J., Liu, A. W., Guandique, C. F., Tovar, C. A., Inoue, T., Irvine, K. A., Gensel, J. C., Kloke, J., Petrossian, T. C., Lum, P. Y., Carlsson, G. E., Manley, G. T., Young, W., Beattie, M. S., Bresnahan, J. C., Ferguson, A. R., 2015. Topological data analysis for discovery in preclinical spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury. Nature Communications, 6 8581.
doi: PubMed ID: 26466022.
Selected Presentations

Selected Presentations

Nielson, J. L. "Multi-dimensional analysis of genomic, imaging, and clinical data from the TRACK-TBI pilot study", Neurocritical Care Society, Boca Raton, Florida, September 28, 2018.
Nielson, J. L. "Data sharing and the 3Rs: Reuse – Challenges and opportunities in harmonizing legacy data", The 3rd Joint Symposium of the International and National Neurotrauma Societies and AANS/CNS Section on Neurotrauma and Critical Care, Toronto, Canada, August 11, 2018.
Nielson, J. L. "Development of a data-driven psychedelic therapy network. Sleeping Octopus Assembly on Psychedelics", Sleeping Octopus Assembly on Psychedelics, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, July 13, 2018.
Nielson, J. L. "A Qualitative Assessment of Risks and Benefits of Ayahuasca for Trauma Survivors", Beyond Psychedelics, Prague, Czech Republic, June 21, 2018.
Nielson, J. L. "FAIR-SCI Ahead", Society for Neuroscience, Washington, District of Columbia, November 10, 2017.
Nielson, J. L. "Ayahuasca for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Assessing Risks and Benefits through Anonymous Community Feedback", Psychedelic Science, Oakland, California, April 23, 2017.
Nielson, J. L. "Ayahuasca for PTSD: Assessing Benefits and Risks Through Multiple Perspectives", Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics, New York, New York, October 05, 2016.
Nielson, J. L., Megler, J. D. "Ayahuasca for PTSD: Integrating Psychedelic Therapeutic Strategies for Neurotrauma into a Bioinformatics Framework", Beyond Psychedelics, Oakland, California, April 21, 2013.



Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, F282/2A West Building, 2450 Riverside Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55454