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Elizabeth Thornton

Dr, Lecturer in Cell and Molecular Biology

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Personal profile

Research interests (short)

Hypoxic ischaemic (HI) encephalopathy during birth results in neural cell death and the development of long term disabilities (motor/cognitive impairment etc). Although there is some immediate acute brain damage, the majority of cell death occurs with a delay post-HI. In infants and animal models of HI there is an initial depletion of ATP, phosphocreatine and glucose within the brain followed by a transient recovery (the “latent” phase). Subsequently, there is a secondary energy failure during which cell death is maximal. We and others have shown that HI triggers events such as NMDA/AMPA receptor activation, production of reactive oxygen species and increases in intracellular calcium.  Data from our lab and others strongly suggest that in response to these stimuli, the "tipping point" in commiting the cell to death is the degree of mitochondrial dysfunction they cause. As there is currently only one clinical intervention available to treat infants with term HI injury (therapeutic hypothermia, successful in 1 in every 7 babies), restoring mitochondrial health may provide a new avenue to address this urgent unmet need.

My research is focussed on the underlying mechanisms of cell death which result from hypoxic-ischaemic insult (HI) in the neonatal brain. Key molecules involved in apoptotic, necroptotic and mitophagic pathways are upregulated in response to HI. We are currently using in vitro and in vivo models of HI to investigate whether any of these targets offer "mitotherapeutic" potential to act as an adjunct to therapeutic hypothermia. 


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, Identification of a novel beta subunit of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), Imperial College London

Award Date: 1 Jan 1999


  • Q Science (General)
  • Perinatal Brain Injury
  • Hypoxia
  • Mitochondria
  • Intracellular signalling
  • Apoptosis


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