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Dr Julie Thornton

PositionSenior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences
LocationRoom H38B, Richmond Building
DepartmentSchool of Chemistry and Biosciences
RKT CentreCentre for Skin Sciences
Telephone+44 (0) 1274 235517

Research Interests (key words only)

Skin and hair biology, wound healing, ageing, steroid hormones (estrogens, androgens, vitamin D), inflammation, photoreceptors and circadian regulation.

Teaching and Supervisory Responsibilities

  • BSc Biomedical Science (accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science)
  • BSc Healthcare Sciences (triple accreditation by the Department of Health, Institute of Biomedical Science and Health Professions Council)
  • BSc Clinical Sciences (pre-clinical course); This course is in partner with the University of Leeds School of Medicine to widen participation for students entering medical education from under-represented backgrounds and allows progression into medicine at Leeds.
  • MSc Biomedical Science
  • MSc Skin Science and Regenerative Medicine (commencing Sept 2016; also part of the Programme Team that has developed this course)


Year 1: Cell and Tissue Biology, Integrated Medical Sciences, Developing Professional Skills 1

Year 2: Pathology, Developing Professional Skills 2

Year 3: Research Topics I in Medical Cell Biology; Research Topics I in Cancer Biology and Therapeutics, Research Topics 2 in Medical Biochemistry, Research Project (4-week laboratory-based research project for 6 students, across 2 specialist options) Research Dissertation for Clinical Sciences (2 students)

Masters: Critical Appraisal (extensive dissertation on chosen research topic), Research Project (10-week laboratory-based research project for 2 students

Teaching includes a variety of traditional and contemporary methods of delivery from formal lectures (20-300 students), seminars, tutorials, workshops, laboratory sessions e.g. biochemical, cell culture and histopathology techniques, and laboratory-based research projects (4-8 weeks), where typical techniques include cell culture, qRT-PCR, enzyme assays and immunohistochemistry on frozen or paraffin-embedded tissue, fluorescence microscopy.

Personal Tutor: Small group personal tutorials provide student support both academically and pastorally on an individual basis.  I am responsible for 10 to 15 students per year from levels 1 to 3 enrolled on the BSc undergraduate course in Biomedical Science. 

Franchised Course: two cohorts per year - research dissertations, sending individual student e-mails and electronic feedback on draft report on chosen research topic. Responsible for overseeing assessment (60%) of Research Topics 2 module (3 different specialised options) viva voce on selection of research papers during scheduled visits to Singapore.

Administrative Responsibilities

  • Jing Qin Tay: The David Sharpe Research Fellow: Funded by the Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit, Bradford
  • Irene Castellano: Early Stage Researcher: Funded by the Marie Curie EU Initial Training Networks (ITN) – part of the 7th Framework Programme consortium; in collaboration with Philips, Eindhoven)
  • Aaiad Al Rikabi International PhD student

Study History

PhD, Biomedical Sciences, University of Bradford, UK (1990): Androgen Action in Cultured Dermal Papilla Cells Derived from Human Hair Follicles Funded by the Medical Research Council, UK, Examined by Professor F.J.G. Ebling, University of Sheffield.

BSc Biochemistry (Joint Honors), University of East Anglia, UK


Professional History

        Graduated PhD Students:

  • Ola Kamala: A comparison of dermal fibroblasts from terminal and vellus hair bearing skin, graduated 2015
  • Marwa El Sayed: Up-regulated p53 w/w in vitiligo and its possible role in prevention of sun induced skin cancers compared to melanoma associated leukoderma (MAL), graduated 2015
  • Tareg Hadeiba: The role of iron in oxidative stress induced accelerated endothelial dysfunction in chronic kidney disease, graduated 2015
  • Elena Pomari: Local synthesis of sex steroids in human skin and the hair follicle, Funded by the University of Padova, Italy; graduated 2011
  • Khatera Zemaryalai: Investigations into the roles of potassium channels in hair growth, graduated 2010
  • Mohamed Salem: H2O2-mediated oxidation and nitration enhances DNA binding capacity/DNA repair via up-regulation of epidermal wild type p53 in vitiligo, graduated 2009
  • Aishia Meskiri: The role of oestrogens in skin and hair pigmentation, graduated 2007
  • Susan Stevenson: Oestrogens, dermal fibroblasts and the hair follicle in wound healing, graduated 2007
  • Louisa Nelson: The role of oestrogens in human skin and the pilosebaceous unit, graduated 2005
  • Gareth Davies: In vivo and in vitro models of hair growth for the assessment of potassium channel openers, graduated 2001
  • Alison Merrick: The role of paracrine factors in androgen-regulated hair growth, graduated 2000

Conference Organising Committees:

  • 2019: British Society for Investigative Dermatology Annual Meeting, Bradford, UK
  • 2016: Epigenetic Control of Skin Regeneration, Ageing and Disease. International Symposium, Bradford, UK
  • 2015: Meeting of the Heads of University Centres of Biomedical Sciences, (HUCBMS), Annual Meeting, Bradford
  • 2013: Meeting of the 7th World Congress for Hair Research, Edinburgh 
  • 2011: Wound Healing Society Basics Course, Dallas, USA,
  • 2010: Wound Healing Society Basics Course, Orlando, USA,
  • 2009: Wound Healing Society Basics Course, Dallas, USA,
  • 2008: Wound Healing Society Basics Course, San Diego, USA,
  • 2000:Meeting of theEuropean Hair Research Society, York, UK

Chair Of Conference Sessions:

  • 2016: Epigenetic Control of Skin Regeneration, Ageing and Disease. International Symposium, Bradford, UK
  • 2013: The 7th World Congress for Hair Research, Edinburgh, Scotland
  • 2010: Wound Healing Society, Orlando, USA
  • 2006: European Hair Research Society, London, UK
  • 2002: European Hair Research Society, Brussels, Belgium
  • 2000: European Hair Research Society, York, UK
  • 1998: First Intercontinental Meeting of Hair Research Societies, Melbourne, Australia

Professional Activities

• Member of the University of Bradford Course Approval and Review Team (Faculty of Life Sciences)
• Member of the Collaborative Provision Audit Working Group
• Alternate member of the University's Course Approval and Review Panel
• Transfer Review Panel - approve transfer of postgraduate students to PhD status following Viva Voce (Faculty of Life Sciences)

• Internal Examiner for PhD research degrees (Faculty of Life Sciences)
• Independent Chair for PhD Viva Voce (University wide)
• External Examiner: 2015-2019: Medipathways, collaborative partner of the School of Science and Medicine, University of Buckingham

• Member of the British Society for Investigative Dermatology
• Member of the European Hair Research Society

• Editorial Board Member: Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, Cell Biology Section of the Board Impact factor 5.578
• Reviewer For International Journals: Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Experimental Dermatology, Wound Repair and Regeneration, Steroids, American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Endocrinology, Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Molecular Pharmaceutics, Journal of Endocrinology, British Journal of Dermatology, Journal of Anatomy, Journal North American Menopause Society, Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, Laboratory Investigation and PLOS ONE

• Advisory Board: Wounds 2017 (UK) with the remit of building this annual conference into a major international congress

• Reviewer For Research Grant Awards: Medical Research Council, UK; British Skin Foundation, UK: BBSRC

• PhD External Examiner: Universities of Manchester, Leicester, Durham, Hull York Medical School, Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Areas

The skin provides an excellent accessible human cell and tissue model with an exceptional ability for regeneration that significantly declines with age. Along with its appendages (e.g. glands, hair follicles) it is a complex organ, which is continually self-renewing and remodelling. The hair follicle recapitulates embryogenesis throughout adult life with each hair cycle displaying a unique postnatal regenerative capacity.

Cell types of different lineages, e.g. epithelial, connective, vascular, epithelial stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells, melanocytes, can all be isolated and cultured either individually or in 3D-co-culture, thus providing an excellent collection of primary human cells for cellular and molecular studies of cell signaling, changes in gene and protein expression, including epigenetic changes and the regulation of gene regulatory networks.

Using these human cell and tissue models my research is focused primarily on wound healing and ageing, particularly in post-menopausal women.

Skin Endocrinology:

• How lack of estrogens and/or vitamin D accelerates skin ageing, increases inflammation and impairs wound healing.

• The role of DHEA in the skin of postmenopausal women

Wound Healing:

• Developing a 3D-in situ model

• The role of light and the circadian clock in wound healing

• The importance of platelet lysate in the inflammatory response and subsequent wound healing

• The mechanisms by which diabetes impairs cellular function and subsequent wound healing

• The role of senescent fibroblasts in chronic wounds

Current Projects

Interactions of light with skin and hair follicle stem cells to link physics and physiology towards devices for wound healing (funded by the European Commission Marie Curie EU Initial Training Networks):

Specifically this is delineating the role of the circadian clock and photoreceptors including the opsins (GPCRs) and cryptochromes (transcription factors), both of which absorb light within the ultraviolet–visible spectrum, in human skin, with a view to the translational development of light-based wound healing therapies. Exposing 2D and 3D primary cell cultures, and ex vivo skin biopsies to light of different dose and wavelength has shown changes in specific gene expression, while knockdown of opsins with siRNA has demonstrated a role in cell migration. Image analysis is also revealing novel specific cellular localisation of these photoreceptors.

The role of vitamin D in cutaneous wound healing.

The importance of Vitamin D synthesis in human skin is highlighted by the evolutionary drive to reduce skin pigmentation in the populations of Northern latitudes. While there is evidence for a link with immunity and up-regulation of defensins and cathelicidins with potent microbicidal activities, which may reduce the risk of infection following skin injury, surprisingly the role of vitamin D in skin ageing and wound healing has received little attention. Absence of the vitamin D receptor, a direct regulator of gene transcription as a dimer with the retinoic acid receptor, impairs wound granulation tissue formation, yet the regulation of biologically active vitamin D by human dermal fibroblasts during wound healing has not been explored. The aim of this project is to identify the key mechanisms of action of Vitamin D in wound healing with a view to translate these findings into improved therapies for vitamin D deficient patients including the elderly and burns patients

Skin and Hair Follicle Ageing: 

The aim of this project to identify differences in gene expression, protein expression and functional properties of interfollicular and follicular dermal fibroblast populations derived from young women with those derived from post-menopausal women, to identify significant molecular and cellular changes with age that have a detrimental effect on tissue function. Confocal microscopy is showing differences in dermal fibroblasts and the extracellular matrix (ECM) and a particular focus is to identify specific changes in the organisation of the ECM.

Impaired wounded healing and inflammation:

the role of the dermal fibroblast. The aim of this project to identify differences in the morphology, molecular and functional properties of dermal fibroblast populations in order to understand the fundamental differences between normal physiological wound healing, chronic non-healing wounds and degenerative fibrotic diseases. Using 3D cultures of fibroblasts that are capable of regeneration and repair (e.g. hair follicle fibroblasts) the aim is to identify these biophysical and biochemical mechanisms with an overall translational aim of improving chronic wounds.

Can human platelet lysate in combination with three-dimensional scaffolds improve the wound healing properties of human keratinocytes, fibroblasts and endothelial cells?

There is a clear need to develop 3D-organotypic human skin equivalent models. As platelets are the first cells to reach damaged tissue, and release potent mitogenic and chemotactic factors, platelet-derived products are used in a clinical setting, yet the underlying mechanisms remain to be determined. This project is mapping out these cellular interactions in a 3D wound-healing environment using electrospun nanoscaffolds. There are striking differences in migration, adhesion and proliferation and bioimaging is identifying differences in the spatial arrangement of these cells. Determining how platelet-derived factors can promote cellular organisation to promote wound closure will allow the development of therapies to target cutaneous chronic wound healing.

Research Collaborations

Internal (Centre for Skin Sciences)

• Mr Ajay Mahajan: Consultant Plastic Surgeon and Director of the Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit, Bradford
• Dr Botchkareva: Centre for Skin Sciences
• Prof Botchkarev: Centre for Skin Sciences
• Prof Tobin: Centre for Skin Sciences
• Dr Wayne Roberts:Centre for Skin Sciences
• Dr Anne Graham: School of Medical Sciences, University of Bradford
• Dr Kirsten Riches: School of Medical Sciences, University of Bradford


• Prof Karin Schallreuter: Institute for Pigmentary Disorders, EM Arndt University Greifswald, Germany
• Dr Natallia Uzunbajakava:Philips Group Innovation, Research, Eindhoven, Netherlands


Book Chapters

  • Laing I & Thornton J (2016) Reproductive Endocrinology. In: Clinical Biochemistry, Editor N Ahmed, Oxford University Press, (2nd edition) in press
  • Laing I & Thornton J (2011) Reproductive Endocrinology. In: Clinical Biochemistry, Editor N Ahmed, Oxford University Press, pp 415-449

Invited Editorials

  • Thornton MJ (2016) Human skin: a mirror for estrogen action? The Journal of The North American Menopause Society; 23: 119-120

Invited Reviews

  • Thornton MJ (2013) Estrogens and Aging Skin. Dermato-Endocrinology. 5: 264-270 (30 citations)

  • Stevenson S and Thornton MJ (2007) Effect of estrogens on skin aging and the potential role of SERMs. Clinical Interventions in Aging 2: 283-297 (76 citations)

  • Zouboulis CC, Chen WC, Thornton MJ, Qin K, Rosenfield R (2007)Sexual hormones in human skin. Horm Metab Res 39: 85-95 (229 citations)

  • Thornton MJ (2005) Oestrogen functions in skin and skin appendages. Expert Opin. Ther. Targets 9: 617-629 (48 citations)

  • Thornton, MJ, (2002) The biological actions of estrogens on skin. Exp Dermatol. 11: 487-502 (188 citations)



  • Pomari E, Dalla Valle L, Pertile P, Colombo L & Thornton MJ (2015) Intracrine sex steroid synthesis and signaling in human epidermal keratinocytes and dermal fibroblasts. FASEB J. 29: 508-524

  • Stevenson S, Sharpe DT, Thornton MJ (2009) Effects of oestrogen agonists on human dermal fibroblasts in an in vitro wounding assay. Exp Dermatol. 18: 988-990

  • Salem MM, Shalbaf M, Gibbons NC, Chavan B, Thornton MJ, Schallreuter KU (2009) Enhanced DNA binding capacity on up-regulated epidermal wild-type p53 in vitiligo by H2O2-mediated oxidation: a possible repair mechanism for DNA damage. FASEB J. 23: 3790-3807

  • Wood JM, Decker H, Hartmann H, Chavan B, Rokos H, Spencer JD, Hasse S, Thornton MJ, Shalbaf M, Paus R, Schallreuter KU (2009) Senile hair graying: H2O2-mediated oxidative stress affects human hair color by blunting methionine sulfoxide repair. FASEB J. 23: 2065-2075

  • Stevenson S, Taylor AH, Meskiri A, Sharpe DT, Thornton MJ (2008) Differing responses of human follicular and non follicular scalp cells in an in vitro wound healing assay: effects of estrogen on vascular endothelial growth factor secretion. Wound Repair Regen. 16: 243-253

  • Stevenson S, Nelson LD, Sharpe DT, Thornton MJ (2008) 17beta-estradiol regulates the secretion of TGF-beta by cultured human dermal fibroblasts. J Biomater Sci Polym Ed; 19: 1097-1109

  • ThorntonMJ, Nelson LD, TaylorAH, LaingI, Messenger AG (2006) The modulation of aromatase and estrogen receptor alpha (ERa) in cultured human scalp dermal papilla cells by dexamethsone: a novel mechanism for selective action of estrogen via estrogen receptor beta (ERb)? J Invest Dermatol 126: 2010-2018

  • Gopalan RC, Nelson LD, Thornton MJ and Anderson D (2006) Effects of the sex hormones and their modulators on DNA damage in skin cells measured in the Comet assay Journal of Preventive Medicine. 14:14-31

  • Davies GC, Thornton MJ, Jenner TJ, Chen YJ, Hansen JB, Carr RD, Randall VA (2005) Novel and established potassium channel openers stimulate hair growth in vitro: implications for their modes of action in hair follicles. J Invest Dermatol 124: 686-694

  • Thornton, MJ, Taylor, AH, Mulligan, K and Al-Azzawi F, Lyon C, O'Driscoll J, Messenger AG (2003) Estrogen receptor beta (ERb) is the predominant estrogen receptor in human scalp skin. Exp Dermatol 12: 181-190

  • Thornton, MJ, Taylor, AH, Mulligan, K and Al-Azzawi F, Lyon C, O'Driscoll J, Messenger AG (2003) The distribution of estrogen receptor beta (ERbeta) is distinct to that of ERalpha and the androgen receptor in human skin and the pilosebaceous unit. J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc 8: 100-103

  • Thornton MJ, Nelson LD, Taylor AH, Mulligan KT, Al-Azzawi F, Messenger AG (2003) Human Non-Balding Scalp Dermal Papilla Cells Express Estrogen Receptor beta (ERb) Protein in vivo and in vitro.In: Hair Science and Technology, Editor D. Van Neste pp105-112

  • Thornton MJ, Hibberts NA, Street T, Brinklow BR, Loudon AS, Randall VA (2001) Androgen receptors are only present in mesenchyme-derived dermal papilla cells of red deer (Cervus elaphus) neck follicles when raised androgens induce a mane in the breeding season.J Endocrinol, 168: 401-408

  • Randall VA, Hibberts NA, Thornton MJ, Merrick AE, Hamada K, Kato S, Jenner TJ, de Oliveira I, Messenger AG (2001) Do androgens influence hair growth by altering the paracrine factors secreted by dermal papilla cells? Eur J Dermatol. 11:315-320

  • Randall VA, Hibberts NA, Thornton MJ, Hamada K, Merrick AE, Kato S, Jenner TJ, De Oliveira I, Messenger AG (2000) The hair follicle: a paradoxical androgen target organ. Horm Res. 54: 243-250

  • Thornton, MJ, Taylor, AH, Mulligan, K and Al-Azzawi F (2000) Oestrogen receptor beta is not present in the pilosebaceous unit of red deer skin during the non-breeding season. Horm Res. 54: 259-262

  • Thornton, M J, Hamada, K, Messenger, A G and Randall, V A (1998) Androgen-dependent beard dermal papilla cells secrete autocrine growth factor(s) in response to testosterone unlike scalp cells. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 111: 727-732

  • Hamada, K, Thornton, M J, Laing, I, Messenger, A G and Randall, V A (1996) The metabolism of testosterone by dermal papilla cells cultured from human pubic and axillary follicles concurs with hair growth in 5a-reductase deficiency. Journal of Investigative Dermatology.106: 1017-1022

  • Thornton, M J, Brinklow, B R, Loudon, A S I and Randall, V A (1996) The ability to culture dermal papilla cells from red deer (Cervus elaphus) hair follicles with differing hormonal responses in vivo offers a new model for studying the control of hair follicle biology. Journal of Experimental Zoology.275: 452-458

  • Thornton, MJ, Thomas, DG, Jenner, TJ, Brinklow, BR, Loudon, ASI and Randall, V A (1996) Testosterone or IGF-1 stimulated hair growth in whole organ culture only in androgen-dependent red deer hair follicles. In:Hair research in the next Millenium. Proceedings of the 1st Tricontinental Meeting of Hair Research Societies, Brussels, 1995. Springer-Verlag. Editors D van Neste & VA Randall

  • Randall, V A, Thornton, M J, Hamada, K and Messenger, A G (1994) Androgen action in cultured dermal papilla cells from human hair follicles. Skin Pharmacology. 7: 20-26

  • Thornton MJ, Thomas DG, Brinklow BR, Louden ASI and Randall VA (1994) Breeding mane hair follicles from red deer (Cervus elaphus) stags are stimulated by testosterone in whole organ culture. In: Recent Developments in Deer Biology, Editor JA Milne

  • Thornton, MJ, Laing, I, Hamada, K, Messenger, AG and Randall, VA (1993) Differences in testosterone metabolism in beard and scalp hair follicle dermal papilla cells. Clinical Endocrinology. 39: 633-639

  • Randall, V A, Thornton, M J, Messenger, A G, Hibberts, N A, Loudon, A S I and Brinklow, B R (1993) Hormones and hair growth: variations in androgen receptor content of dermal papilla cells cultured from human and red deer (Cervus elaphus) hair follicles. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 101: 114S-120S

  • Randall, VA, Thornton, M J, and Messenger, A G (1992) Cultured dermal papilla cells from androgen-dependent human hair follicles (e.g. beard) contain more androgen receptors than those from non-balding areas of scalp. Journal of Endocrinology. 133: 141-147

  • Randall, V A, Thornton, M J, Hamada, K and Messenger, A G (1992) The mechanism of androgen action in cultured dermal papilla cells derived from human hair follicles with varying responses to androgens in vivo. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 98: 86-91

  • Thornton, M J, Messenger, A G, Elliott, K and Randall, V A (1991) The effect of androgens on the growth of cultured dermal papilla cells derived from beard and scalp hair follicles. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 97, 345-348 (high impact paper)

  • Randall, V A, Thornton, M J, Hamada, K, Redfern C P F, Nutbrown, M, Ebling, F J G and Messenger, A G (1991) Androgens and the hair follicle: cultured human dermal papilla cells as a model system. Annals of New York Academy of Sciences. 642: 355-375

  • Hull, SM, Nutbrown, M, Thornton, M J, Cunliffe, W J and Randall, V A (1991) Evidence for a subclinical state of alopecia areata.  Annals of New York Academy of Sciences. 642: 478-479

  • Nutbrown, M, Hull, SM, Thornton, M J, Cunliffe, W J and Randall, V A (1991) The ultrastructure of the dermal papilla-epithelial junction in normal and alopecia areata hair follicles. Annals of New York Academy of Sciences 642: 476-477

  • Thornton, M J, Laing, I, Hamada, K, Messenger, A G and Randall, V A (1991) Metabolism of testosterone by cultured dermal papilla cells from human beard, pubic, and scalp hair follicles.  Annals of New York Academy of Sciences. 642: 452-453

  • Randall, V A, Thornton, M J, and Redfern C P F (1991) Dermal papilla cells from human hair follicles express mRNA for retinoic acid receptors in culture Annals of New York Academy of Sciences 642: 457-458

  • Hull, SM, Nutbrown, M, Pepall, L, Thornton, M J, Randall, V A and Cunliffe, WJ (1991) Immunohistological and ultrastructure comparison of the dermal papilla and hair follicle bulb from 'active' and 'normal' areas of alopecia areata. Journal of Investigative Dermatology.  96: 673-681

  • Cleator, G M, Klapper, P E, Thornton, M J, Cropper, L and Reid, H (1986) Immunogold silver staining in the diagnosis of herpes encephalitis. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. 49, 1209-1210

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