Dr James L Thorne


I am a University Academic Fellow and Junior Group Leader here in the School of Food Science and Nutrition. My laboratory uses a range of epigenetic, cell and molecular biology tools to investigate how cancer cell biology can be manipulated by components derived from and modulated by the diet. Oxidised cholesterol metabolites (oxysterols) are emerging as key regulators of cancer cell biology and they regulate gene expression in normal and malignant tissue through the Liver X Receptor (LXR). I collaborate with an EU wide consortium to develop novel methods of detecting an assessing the biological activity of these compounds. We work closely with analytical chemistry and bioinformatics groups to delineate the role of these pathways in cancer. 

By working alongside other researchers interested in cancer prevention at NIHR and the UK Therapeutic Cancer Prevention Network my group aims to find safe, affordable and effective routes to prevent cancer and improve survivorship. My collaborative links include industrial and academic partners from the USA, EU and UK that include synthetic chemists who are helping design novel LXR ligands, bioinformaticians for interrogation of next-generation sequencing data from cell lines and patient tumour samples, dieticians for food intervention studies and epidemiologists to investigate nutrient-disease interactions. I also have strong ties with the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust where consultants, surgeons and pathologists are involved in multiple aspects of patient recruitment for experimental medicine and nutritional intervention trials. Our research is supported by vital funding from breast cancer charities such as the Breast Cancer Research Action Group, and Breast Cancer UK.


  • School Biological Safety Officer
  • School Seminar Series

Research interests

Unusually for transcription factors, the nuclear receptor (NR) superfamily are ligand activated which means they are highly targetable by drugs, metabolites and nutrients. Agonist/antagonist abundance, epigenetic architecture and co-factor complexes all converge to regulate NR transcriptional capacity. NRs also regulate multiple miRNAs that repress transcriptional targets thus establishing coherent and incoherent feed-forward transcription loops. Several NRs sense and responds to endogenously produced cholesterol oxidation products, and to structurally related plant sterols. The oxysterol signaling capability of a tumour is a marker of reduced survival following therapy and appears to drive metastasis and chemotherapy resistance. We are therefore characterizing how the array of nutritional and pharmacological NR ligands can result in distinct transcription profiles and lead to different cellular capabilities such as stem cell-like characteristics, cellular migration, quiescence and the epithelial mesenchymal transition. The potential for therapeutic dietary (phytosterols/stanols) or pharmacological (statins) intervention in these oxysterol-NR activities is of significant clinical and public health interest for cancer prevention and therapy.

Prospective UK, EU and international PhD students are encouraged to contact me for information about potential projects. An interest in epigenetics, cancer and dietary and/or clinical intervention is beneficial.

Thorne lab group members

  • Ms. Sam Hutchinson - (LARS) PhD Student, Oxysterol regulation of chemotherapy resistance in breast cancer (2016 - present)
  • BCUK funded PhD student, "Metabolite signalling in the breast tumour microenvironment" - starting October 2018. To be appointed. 
  • Leeds Global Challenge Doctoral Scholarships, "Dietary manipulation of the cancer cell plasma membrane" - starting October 2018. See current opporunities for further details.
  • BCRAG funded Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Molecular Nutrition - starting October 2018. Please get in touch for further information. 

Shared PhD Students

  • Ms. Robyn Broad - (LARS) Fibroblast and epithelial cell interactions in breast cancer (2015 - present)
  • Ms. Kartika Nugraheni - PhD Student (2017 - present)
  • Ms Zixuan Zhang - PhD Student (2017 - present)

Past group members

  • Mr. David Kane - (BCRAG) Research Assistant, Nutritional regulation of tumour cell energy balance
  • Mr Fraser Chardwick - (Breast Cancer UK) Technician, oxysterol measurements in human tumour tissue
  • Ms. Nienyun Hsu - Modelling nuclear receptor family activity in breast cancer
  • Ms. Nerea Pajares - (Erasmus+) visiting student (2017), LXR-chromatin interaction in breast cancer
  • Mr. Hugues Patout - (Erasmus+) visiting student (2016), solubility of oxysterols


  • PhD
  • MRes
  • BSc

Professional memberships

  • Member of NIHR Nutrition And Cancer working group
  • Committee member of ECMC UK Therapeutic Cancer Prevention Network
  • Member of European Network for Oxysterol Research
  • Member of the Endocrine Society
  • Member of the Nutrition Society
  • Member of the British Association for Cancer Research
  • Member of the European Association Cancer Epigenetics

Student education

I am module manager for Undergraduate and Postgraduate courses at the School of Food Science and Nutrition, and teach on a variety of other modules in my school and the School of Medicine. I supervise 8-12 project students per year. If you are currently in the School of Food Science and Nutrition either at UG or PG level and think you would like to do you research project in my group then please get in touch to discuss project options.   

Research groups and institutes

  • Food Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Nutritional Epidemiology
  • Obesity, Cancer and Metabolic Disease
  • Human Nutrition and Lifestyle Intervention

Postgraduate research opportunities

We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our research opportunities allow you to search for projects and scholarships.

Projects currently available: