Title: Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
College: College of Medicine
Research Interests: Pediatric infectious diseases, Vibrio cholerae
Hobbies: Camping, canoeing, sailing, playing instruments

Dr. Eric Nelson came to the University of Florida from Stanford University, where he was a non-clinical physician-scientist in the division of pediatric infectious diseases. While at Stanford he developed a smartphone application that helps health workers assess and treat patients with cholera and other diarrheal diseases. In addition to being a member of the Emerging Pathogens Institute, Nelson comes to the University of Florida as an assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics and College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of environmental and global health, as well as a member of the Emerging Pathogens Institute.

Nelson began studying Vibrio species such as Vibrio salmonicida and Vibrio fischeri at the University of Hawaii, where he learned about symbiotic and pathogenic relationships between marine animals and bacteria. After earning a master’s degree in microbiology, he joined Tufts as a medical student (MD) and graduate student (PhD). During this 8-year program, he received training in molecular biology and microbiology from HHMI investigator Dr. Andrew Camilli, PhD, and studied the transmission of Vibrio cholerae.  During his dissertation research, he received a NIH fellowship from the NIH Fogarty International Center to study cholera transmission with Dr. Steve Calderwood, MD (Harvard Medical School) and Dr. Firdausi Qadri, PhD (International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh) in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

He views his translational research training as being both ‘bench to bedside’ and ‘bedside to bench.’ He chose pediatrics because it is intimately shaped by infectious diseases, especially for poor children in developing countries, and there are tremendous underappreciated opportunities for translational research. “The majority of cases seen by general pediatricians are in some way linked to infectious diseases,” Nelson said. This is in contrast to “adult” medicine in the United States, in which chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes predominate.

Working abroad, Nelson saw basic opportunities to improve care for patients while making scientific discoveries. He focused on diarrheal diseases because they are the second leading cause of death for children between 1 month and 5 years of age.  Clinically, he started collaborating with mobile phone application developers to explore how to better provide doctors and nurses clinical decision-support and improve outbreak syndromic surveillance in a way that had not been done before. He created an application (a.k.a. Rehydration Calculator) that guides the assessment and treatment of patients with diarrheal disease, even those with cholera. The goal is to encourage compliance with WHO guidelines regarding rehydration and antibiotic stewardship while also making it easier for providers to manage large caseloads. Nelson first tested the software in Bangladesh, and he plans to create a French-language adaptation for Haiti.

To evaluate this decision-support software he also created a powerful data collection tool called the Outbreak Responder that is designed for remote settings with limited connectivity. The standardized assessments from the Rehydration Calculator and the more detailed data collection with the Outbreak Responder enable powerful outbreak surveillance. He hopes these tools will provide new opportunities for clinicians, scientists and first responders to combat water-borne diseases and continue to drive down morbidity and mortality from diarrheal diseases.

In his free time, Nelson enjoys camping and canoeing with his family, sailing, and playing an array of instruments, including the cello.