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 consultant surgeons, radiologists 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 Action and Breast Cancer UK.

We are always looking for bright and motivated candidates for PhD research. If you have a project idea, or would like to study for a PhD in my laboratory, then we welcome you to get in touch. Currently we are supporting applicants to apply for the Leeds Doctoral programe for UK/EU and worlwide candidates. Self-funding PhD applicants are also welcome to apply.


  • School Biological Safety Officer
  • School Seminar Series organiser
  • Faculty Research Ethics Committee

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

  • Giorgia Cococcolini - (Breast Cancer Action; Post-doctoral Research Associate) "Diet, tumour micro-environment and disease progression". 2018 - 2021
  • Sam Hutchinson- (Leeds Doctoral Scholarship; PhD Student), "Oxysterol regulation of chemotherapy resistance in breast cancer". 2016 - 2019.
  • Alex Websdale - (Breast Cancer UK Scholarship; PhD student), "Metabolite signalling in the breast tumour microenvironment". 2018 - 2021.
  • Chrysa Soteriou - (Global Challenge Research Fund Scholarship; PhD Student), "Dietary manipulation of the cancer cell plasma membrane". 2018 - 2021.
  • Priscilia Liantro - (Leeds International Doctoral Scholarship; PhD Student) "LXR, metastasis and Triple Negative Breast Cancer". 2018 - 2021.

Shared PhD Students

  • Ms. Kartika Nugraheni - (2017 - 2020)
  • Ms Zixuan Zhang - (2017 - 2020)

Past group members

  • Ms. Robyn Broad  - (LARS) Fibroblast and epithelial cell interactions in breast cancer (2015 - 2019). Shared PhD student with Dr Thomas Hughes (FMH).
  • Mr David Kane - MSc Food Science and Nutrition project student and Research Assistant (BCRAG), Nutritional regulation of tumour cell energy balance. 
  • Mr Fraser Chardwick - (Breast Cancer UK) Technician, oxysterol measurements in human tumour tissue
  • Ms Nerea Pajares - (Erasmus+) visiting student (2017), LXR-chromatin interaction in breast cancer
  • Mr Hugues Patout - (Erasmus+) visiting student (2016), solubility of oxysterols
<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://environment.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD
  • MRes
  • BSc

Professional memberships

  • NIHR Nutrition And Cancer Collaboration Work Stream Chair
  • ECMC UK Therapeutic Cancer Prevention Network
  • European Network for Oxysterol Research
  • The British Endocrine Society
  • The Nutrition Society
  • European and British Associations for Cancer Research

Student education

I am module manager for Undergraduate and Postgraduate courses at the School of Food Science and Nutrition, teach on a variety of other modules in my school and the School of Medicine and act as personal tutor. 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.

Typically I offer student projects on ‘Diet-tumour molecular interactions.’ The projects that I can offer include molecular and cell biology laboratory work (siRNA transfection, qPCR, cell survival analysis, chemotherapy efflux assays), computer based analysis of Next Generation Sequencing datasets (Chromatin IP and RNA-Seq), systematic literature review, or a combination of the above. Previous undergraduate and postgraduate students in my lab have gone on to publish with me as co-authors. I especially welcome any students who have this goal.

Research groups and institutes

  • Food Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Nutritional Epidemiology
  • Obesity, Cancer and Metabolic Disease
  • Human Nutrition and Lifestyle Intervention
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>