Yuanyuan Li5Assistant Professor

Areas of Interest
Cancer research, epigenetics, nutrition intervention, obesity, aging, prenatal/maternal/transgenerational chemoprevention



Dr. Yuanyuan (Rose) Li received her Ph.D. in Oncology from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, China, in 2006. She then began her postdoctoral training in Dr. Tollefsbol’s lab at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Dr. Li was appointed as Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Biology at UAB during 2011 to 2013. She was recruited as an Instructor in Division of Hematology and Oncology of Department of Medicine at UAB during 2013 to 2016. She returned to Department of Biology as Assistant Research Professor from 2016 to 2017. Dr. Li was appointed as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology since December, 2017.

Dr. Li’s research has primarily focused on studying the interaction of epigenetic mechanisms and environmental factors such as bioactive dietary compounds in human diseases including cancer, obesity and aging utilizing transgenic mice as main animal models. Nutrition is believed as an important environmental factor that is involved in regulation of gene expression during disease development through impacting epigenetic pathways. Therefore, her primary research strategy is to investigate the molecular epigenetic mechanisms of the bioactive botanical compounds in prevention and therapy of human diseases such as cancer and obesity. These provocative studies have led to several awards and publications. So far, Dr. Li has authored 6 book chapters and 27 publications in high-ranking peer-reviewed international journals. Her research contributions have received international recognition. She was frequently invited to give oral presentations at different academic occasions and to present her studies at several national and international conferences. Dr. Li won many career awards including a two-year Postdoctoral Award (PDA) by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) for her postdoctoral training (2009), a one-year Junior Faculty Development Award from the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center (2011), a two-year R03 grant from the National Institutes of Health (2013), and 5-year K01 grant from National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2017). Due to these contributions, Dr. Li was selected as the 2014 recipient of Mary Swartz Rose Young Investigator Award, a prestigious national award given to an investigator for outstanding research on the safety and efficacy of bioactive compounds for human health.

  • Research Interests

    My research primarily focuses on epigenetic regulation of dietary components in cancer prevention, 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 as well as epigenetic regulation of aging process.

  • Selected Publications

    Li Y*., Meeran S.M. and Tollefsbol T.O., Combinatorial bioactive botanicals re-sensitize tamoxifen treatment in ER-negative breast cancer via epigenetic reactivation of ERα expression. Scientific Reports, 7(1): 9345, 2017. Received various media reports including UAB eReporter, Alabama NewsCenter, Birmingham Times, Newsweek, et. al.

    Li Y*., Buckhaults P., Cui X., Tollefsbol T.O., Combinatorial epigenetic mechanisms and efficacy of early breast cancer inhibition by nutritive botanicals. Epigenomics, 2016, Aug;8(8):1019-37.

    Li Y*., Saldanha S., Tollefsbol T.O., Epigenetic dietary compounds on transgenerational prevention of human diseases. AAPS Journal, 2014 Jan;16(1):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, 4;12(1):9 2013. Featured on www.MDLinx.com site. MDLinx is the world's most up-to-date index of articles that matter in the daily lives of physicians and other healthcare professionals.

    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. 2013; 8(1):e54369.

    Li Y.*, Daniel M. and Tollefsbol T.O., Epigenetic regulation of caloric restriction in aging. BMC Medicine, 2011, 9, 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 2011, 6(2), 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 2010, 9, 274. Received “Highly accessed” status by Molecular Cancer (4th most accessed in the journal) and featured on www.MDLinx.com site. MDLinx is the world's most up-to-date index of articles that matter in the daily lives of physicians and other healthcare professionals.

    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 2010, 24(5), 1442-1453. 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 2010, 17(20), 2141-2151. “Most Cited Articles” featured on the CMC website.


Ph.D., Peking Union Medical College & Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, China

Postdoctoral Fellowships
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Alabama at Birmingham


Office Location
Volker Hall 153



Integrating diverse basic and translational scientific investigations around common research interests

The Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology (a Joint Health Sciences or JHS Department in the School of Medicine) has been integral to the scientific, clinical and educational missions of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, since the medical center in Birmingham was established in 1945. The disciplines of pharmacology and toxicology span basic mechanisms of drug discovery, action, metabolism and distribution, along with studies of the therapeutic or adverse effects that chemicals/drugs have on biological systems.


Pharmacology and toxicology are unique disciplines in biomedical research that serve to translate basic science findings into preclinical and clinical investigations and practice.


Our goal is to provide rigorous, evidence-based teaching and training to our students, fellows and post-docs in the lab, in workshops and in the classroom.


Clinical pharmacology offers a unique opportunity to combine the basic and clinical research efforts of multiple departments and centers across the medical school to focus on the development and clinical use of drugs.