Skip to content

Professor Julie Thornton,
Professor in Cutaneous Biology

Information about Professor Julie Thornton at the University of Bradford.

School of Chemistry & Biosciences
(Faculty of Life Sciences)
+44 1274 235517
Photo of Professor Julie Thornton


I am the Academic Director of the Centre for Skin Sciences (, one of the most well known academic centres in Britain for research and teaching in skin science. The Centre has a faculty of internationally renowned scientists whose mission is to better understand skin and hair biology, to provide an exciting research environment for our graduate and post graduate students and to foster successful partnerships with companies developing innovative new products for consumers and patients. Our research explores the cellular and molecular processes underlying skin and hair biology in both health and disease including world leading research focussed on the role of epigenetic processes in skin and hair biology.I am also the Academic lead for the Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit (PSBRU) a charity established in the aftermath of the fire disaster at the Bradford City football club in 1985( Building on almost 35 years of research into wound healing and scarring, this long standing unit provides a strong foundation for our young doctors who set out to pursue a career in Plastic Surgery and encourages them to embark on innovative research projects that generate evidence for practising evidence-based medicine. The unit has trained a number of research fellows over the years, with many now working as established consultants in various parts of the UK.As a Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences I teach undergraduate and graduate students, and have a number of Ph.D. students working under my supervision. I am the option convenor for the Cellular Pathology specialist option in the final year of the undergraduate Biomedical Sciences programme and I am the module leader for the level 6 module, Research Topics in Medical Cell Biology.I am also a member of the Equality Diversity and Opportunities Group, in the School of Chemistry and Biosciences. The School received the Athena SWAN Bronze award in 2018. However, I consider my greatest achievements to be my two sons, Tom and James.


RESEARCH INTERESTSThe 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.There is a strong need to develop relevant human cell and tissue models to decipher the underpinning mechanisms of disease, which will be key to providing effective therapeutics and in identifying those patients at risk of developing particular diseases. Since it is possible to obtain both normal and diseased human skin from different age groups, and different populations, and the different types of primary cells, including stem cells, can be isolated and cultured, this opens up an extensive range of potential areas for investigation. Since primary cells in isolation may not respond in the same way as they would in their normal environment, we are developing 3D co-cultures, and 3D-cultures using scaffolds. Using bioimaging we can compare the spatial arrangement of these cells with ex vivo whole tissue to identify superior, relevant in vitro models for human studies.Current PhD StudentsLucy Trevor: Influence of adipocytes on radiotherapy tissue; implications on wound-healing and scar tissue formation/maturationRachael Sutherland-Sedman: Aging of the hair follicle dermal environmentPaul Norton:Effective removal of antimicrobial resistant bacteria from chronic woundsAqib Ahmed: Role of TET enzymes in hair growth regulationAaiad Al Rikabi: Impaired wounded healing and inflammation: the role of the dermal fibroblastOther Research Projects and Collaborations with Industry:KTP Innovate UK funded collaboration with Jacobo Elies (School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences) and Alex Chapman (Labskin, York). This is principally to apply our expertise in human skin primary cell culture to Labskin’s current 2-cell skin equivalent model to produce a superior 3-cell pigmented model.Aveda/Estee LauderWe have been working with this company for several years to understand more about the biology of ageing hair.Nutraceutical Wellness LLC (Nutrafol) a NY-based nutritional supplement company that aims to help men and women experiencing thinning hair through a multi-targeted approach are collaborating on a project that bring together science and expertise to research human hair biology, hair thinning, and the connection between molecular mechanisms and hormonal signals in many cell types. Follicum AB, ( a biotech company are working with us to understand the mechanism of their drugs on hair loss and diabetes.PUBLICATIONSINVITED REVIEWS:Thornton MJ (2013) Estrogens and Aging Skin. Dermato-Endocrinology. 5: 264-270 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 Zouboulis CC, Chen WC, Thornton MJ, Qin K, Rosenfield R (2007) Sexual hormones in human skin. Horm Metab Res 39: 85-95 Thornton MJ (2005) Oestrogen functions in skin and skin appendages. Expert Opin. Ther. Targets 9: 617-629 Thornton, MJ, (2002) The biological actions of oestrogens on skin. Exp Dermatol. 11: 487-502 INVITED EDITORIALSThornton MJ (2016) Human skin: a mirror for estrogen action? The Journal of The North American Menopause Society; 23: 119-120 PEER-REVIEWED PAPERS Castellano-Pellicena I, Uzunbajakava NE, Mignon C, Raafs B, Botchkarev VA and Thornton MJ (2019) Does Blue Light Restore Human Epidermal Barrier Function via Activation of Opsin During Cutaneous Wound Healing? Lasers in Surgery and Medicine 51: 370-382 Pomari E, Dalla Valle L, Pertile P, Colombo L and 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 and 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 and 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: 3790-3807Wood JM, Decker H, Hartmann H, Chavan B, Rokos H, Spencer JD, Hasse S, Thornton MJ, Shalbaf M, Paus R and 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 and 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 and Thornton MJ (2008) 17beta-estradiol regulates the secretion of TGF-beta by cultured human dermal fibroblasts. J Biomater Sci Polym Ed; 19: 1097-1109 Thornton MJ, Nelson LD, Taylor AH, Laing I and Messenger AG (2006) The modulation of aromatase and estrogen receptor alpha (ER) in cultured human scalp dermal papilla cells by dexamethsone: a novel mechanism for selective action of estrogen via estrogen receptor beta (ER)? J Invest Dermatol 126: 2010-2018 Davies GC, Thornton MJ, Jenner TJ, Chen YJ, Hansen JB, Carr RD and 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 and Messenger AG (2003) Oestrogen receptor beta (ERb) is the predominant oestrogen 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 and 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, Hibberts NA, Street T, Brinklow BR, Loudon AS and 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 and Messenger AG (2001) Do androgens influence hair growth by altering the paracrine factors secreted by dermal papilla cells? Eur J Dermatol. 11: 315-320Randall VA, Hibberts NA, Thornton MJ, Hamada K, Merrick AE, Kato S, Jenner TJ, De Oliveira I and 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, MJ, Hamada, K, Messenger, AG and Randall, VA (1998) Androgen-dependent beard dermal papilla cells secrete autocrine growth factor(s) in response to testosterone unlike scalp cells. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 111: 727-732Hamada, K, Thornton, MJ, Laing, I, Messenger, AG 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 5-reductase deficiency. Journal of Investigative Dermatology.106: 1017-1022 Thornton, MJ, Brinklow, BR, Loudon, ASI and Randall, VA (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 Randall, VA, Thornton, MJ, Hamada, K and Messenger, AG (1994) Androgen action in cultured dermal papilla cells from human hair follicles. Skin Pharmacology. 7: 20-26 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, VA, Thornton, MJ, Messenger, AG, Hibberts, NA, Loudon, ASI and Brinklow, BR (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, MJ, and Messenger, AG (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, VA, Thornton, MJ, Hamada, K and Messenger, AG (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: 86-91Thornton, MJ, Messenger, AG, Elliott, K and Randall, VA (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, VA, Thornton, MJ, Hamada, K, Redfern CPF, Nutbrown, M, Ebling, FJG and Messenger, AG (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, Pepall, L, Thornton, MJ, Randall, VA 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: 673-681Hull, SM, Nutbrown, M, Thornton, MJ, Cunliffe, WJ and Randall, VA (1991) Evidence for a subclinical state of alopecia areata. Annals of New York Academy of Sciences. 642: 478-479 Nutbrown, M, Hull, SM, Thornton, MJ, Cunliffe, WJ and Randall, VA (1991) The ultrastructure of the dermal papilla-epithelial junction in normal and alopecia areata hair follicles. Annals of New York Academy of Sciences 642: 476-477Thornton, MJ, Laing, I, Hamada, K, Messenger, AG and Randall, VA (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, VA, Thornton, MJ, and Redfern CPF (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 BOOK CHAPTERSLaing I &Thornton J (2017)Reproductive Endocrinology. In: Clinical Biochemistry, Editor N Ahmed, Oxford University Press, (2nd edition) Laing I &Thornton J (2011)Reproductive Endocrinology. In: Clinical Biochemistry, Editor N Ahmed, Oxford University Press, pp 415-449 Thornton MJ, Nelson LD, Taylor AH, Mulligan KT, Al-Azzawi F and Messenger AG (2003) Human Non-Balding Scalp Dermal Papilla Cells Express Estrogen Receptor beta (ERb) Protein in vivoand in vitro. In: Hair Science and Technology, Editor D. Van Neste pp105-112 (80%,7 pages) · Thornton, MJ, Thomas, DG, Jenner, TJ, Brinklow, BR, Loudon, ASI and Randall, VA (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 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

Research supervision

Professor Julie Thornton is responsible for the supervision of 2 postgraduate researchers at the University of Bradford.