Research Assistant Professor
Campbell Hall 175
(205) 934-4587

Research Interests: Epigenetics, Nutrition and Cancer Prevention, Cancer research, Aging, Obesity, Molecular Biology, Gene Regulation, Embryology

Yuanyan Li. Office Hours: By appointment

  • PhD, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, China, Oncology

Dr. Yuanyuan Li received her PhD in Oncology from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, China, in 2006. She began her postdoctoral training in Dr. Tollefsbol’s lab at University of Alabama at Birmingham and was an assistant research professor in the Department of Biology during 2011 to 2013. She was recruited as an instructor in Division of Hematology and Oncology of Department of Medicine at UAB in 2013, then returned to the Department of Biology as Assistant Research Professor in March of 2016.

Dr. Li's research interests primarily focus on epigenetic regulation of nutritional components in cancer prevention and therapy. She is also interested in nutrition regulated-aging control and longevity. She has authored over 20 scientific peer-reviewed papers in prestigious journals and served as an invited scientific reviewer for many highly respected journals. Her research contributions have received international recognition.

She is often invited to give oral presentations at different academic occasions and to present her studies at several national and international conferences. Dr. Li served as PI or co-investigator on several extramural research grants from funding agencies including the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. During her postdoctoral training she received a Postdoctoral Award (PDA) by AICR, the national leading cancer foundation charity. She also received grants as principal investigator (PI) by NIH/NCI R03, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center for her junior faculty career development.

CV: Download PDF

My research primarily focuses on epigenetic regulation of dietary components in cancer, and epigenetic reprogramming in transgenerational cancer and obesity interfering. Nutrition is a chief contributor to the regulation of gene expression in cancer development by impacting epigenetic pathways. Therefore my primary research strategy is to investigate the molecular epigenetic mechanisms of the bioactive botanical compounds in prevention and therapy of human diseases such as breast cancer and obesity. I have more than 10 years of experience in cancer research and my research area has important translational potential.
  • Li Y*., Buckhaults P., Cui X., Tollefsbol T.O., "Combinatorial epigenetic mechanisms and efficacy of early breast cancer inhibition by nutritive botanicals," Epigenomics 8 (No. 8, 2016):1,019-37.
  • Li Y*., Saldanha S., Tollefsbol T.O., "Epigenetic dietary compounds on transgenerational prevention of human diseases," AAPS Journal 16 (No. 1, 2014):27-36.
  • Li Y*., Meeran S.M., Patel S.N., Chen H., Hardy T.M. and Tollefsbol T.O., "Epigenetic reactivation of estrogen receptor-α (ERα) by genistein enhanced chemosensitivity in ERα-negative breast cancer," Molecular Cancer 12 (No. 9, 2013). Featured on site.
  • Li Y*, Chen H, Hardy TM, Tollefsbol TO. "Epigenetic regulation of multiple tumor-related genes leads to suppression of breast tumorigenesis by dietary genistein." PloS one 8 (No. 1, 2013):e54369.
  • Li Y.*, Daniel M. and Tollefsbol T.O., "Epigenetic regulation of caloric restriction in aging," BMC Medicine 9 (2011):98-110. Ranked “Top one paper” in the area based on BioMedLib; received featured article and “highly accessed” status in BMC Medicine web site; featured in The Australian newspaper, a national newspaper in Australia.
  • Li Y. and Tollefsbol T.O., "p16INK4a suppression by glucose restriction contributes to human cellular lifespan extension through SIRT1-mediated epigenetic and genetic mechanisms," PLoS ONE 6 (No. 2, 2011):e17421. Ranked “Top three paper” in the area based on BioMedLib.
  • Li Y., Yuan Y., Meeran S.M. and Tollefsbol T.O., "Synergistic epigenetic reactivation of estrogen receptor-α (ERα) by combined green tea polyphenol and histone deacetylase inhibitor in ERα-negative breast cancer cells," Molecular Cancer 9 (2010):274. Received “Highly accessed” status by Molecular Cancer (4th most accessed in the journal) and featured on
  • Li Y., Liu L. and Tollefsbol T.O., "Glucose restriction can extend normal cell lifespan and impair precancerous cell growth through epigenetic control of hTERT and p16 expression," The FASEB Journal 24 (No. 5, 2010):1,442-53. Selected by the editors of FASEB Journal for press release. Received several hundred news stories online and also appeared on the UAB main page, the front page of Birmingham News, Fox 6 News and Science News, et al. Awarded “best paper” by UAB-based investigators in 2011 in the areas of obesity or nutrition.
  • Li Y. and Tollefsbol T.O., "Impact on DNA methylation in cancer prevention and therapy by bioactive dietary components," Current Medicinal Chemistry 17 (No. 20, 2010):2,141-51. Most Cited Articles” featured on the CMC website.
  • Li Y., Liu L., Andrews L.G. and Tollefsbol T.O., "Genistein depletes telomerase activity through cross-talk between genetic and epigenetic mechanisms," International Journal of Cancer 125 (No. 2, 2009):286-96.