Professor Emeritus

Lilian Thompson

Department of Nutritional Sciences


Medical Sciences Building, 5th Floor, Room 5253A
1 King's College Circle, Toronto, Ontario Canada M5S 1A8
Research Interests
bioactives, bone health, gut health, carbohydrate/fibre metabolism, diet and cancer, functional foods and nutraceuticals, microbiome, nutrition in diseased populations
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  • PhD, Food Science and Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin (Madison)
  • MSc, Agricultural Chemistry - Food Technology, University of the Philippines
  • BSc, Chemistry, Mapua Institute of Technology, Philippines

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At a Glance

  • The overall goal of Dr. Thompson's research program is to elucidate the components of plant foods responsible for their health benefits and adverse effects, as well as the molecular, cellular, and physiological mechanisms of their action. Her research is focused on the role of phytochemicals (i.e., phytoestrogens: lignans and isoflavones), alpha linolenic acid, and their interactions with drugs on the development of breast cancer and osteoporosis, as well as their metabolism and bioavailability. 
  • Current work studies the effect of flaxseed and its lignans and oil components on gut microbiota and mammary gland MiRnome expressions and subsequent role in breast cancer development.

About Dr. Thompson

Dr. Thompson completed her early education in the Philippines and her PhD degree in the USA. With background in chemistry and food science, she was hired as Professor initially in the Faculty of Food Sciences and later in the Faculty of Medicine (now the Temerty Faculty of Medicine). She taught Food Chemistry and another course (Functional Foods) to undergraduate students for 37 years until her official retirement in 2006. As Professor Emeritus, Dr. Thompson no longer has undergraduate lecturing responsibilities, but continues her research program and supervision of graduate students. She has received international recognition for her research on canola protein, phytic acid, dietary fiber, phytoestrogen lignans and its richest source, flaxseed.

Research Synopsis

Early in her career, Dr. Thompson focused on utilization of agricultural waste products, as it was a major issue at the time. She developed methods of recovering proteins from rapeseed (canola) and cottage cheese whey and later incorporated them in food products. While developing methods to reduce phytic acid in canola protein, Dr. Thompson found that small amounts of phytic acid has potential health beneficial effects and need not be completely eliminated in foods. In small amounts, it can contribute to lowering blood glucose response to carbohydrate foods and reduce also the risk of colon and breast cancer. It may contribute also to health beneficial effects of legumes.

Dr. Thompson also found that other previously considered antinutrients such as the polyphenols, have health beneficial effects and these compounds are now referred to as nutraceuticals. Her interest on nutraceuticals led her to studying the phytoestrogens called lignans. Using in vitro fermentation methods with human fecal inoculum to simulate fermentation in human colon fermentation, Dr. Thompson established the fermentability characteristics of dietary fiber from many plant foods and also found that flaxseed is the richest plant food source of the phytoestrogen plant lignan secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (lignans), which can be metabolized by gut microbiota to the enterolignans enterolactone and enterodiol. Dr. Thompson spent more than 30 years studying flaxseed and its lignan and oil components. Using in vitro (cell culture), animal, clinical (healthy and patients) human subjects and observational studies, she found that they can play a role in the risk reduction and treatment of breast cancer. Lignans can also increase the survival of breast cancer patients. Her work on health benefits of flaxseed and its lignan and oil components has contributed to the development of many food products containing flaxseed and their increased consumption. Dr. Thompson continues to investigate the molecular, cellular and physiological mechanisms of their action with current focus on the role of gut microbiota and mammary gland miRnome.

Recent Publications

  1. Taibi A, Ku M, Lin Z, Gargari G, Kubant A, Lepp D, Power KA, Guglielmetti S, Thompson LU, Comelli EM. Data on cecal and fecal microbiota and predicted metagenomes profiles of female mice receiving whole flaxseed or its oil and secoisolariciresinol diglucoside components. Data Brief. 2021 Sep 22;38:107409. doi: 10.1016/j.dib.2021.107409. PMID: 34632012; PMCID: PMC8488252.
  2. Taibi A, Ku M, Lin Z, Gargari G, Kubant A, Lepp D, Power KA, Guglielmetti S, Thompson LU, Comelli EM. Discriminatory and cooperative effects within the mouse gut microbiota in response to flaxseed and its oil and lignan components. J Nutr Biochem. 2021 Dec;98:108818. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2021.108818. Epub 2021 Jul 14. PMID: 34271098.
  3. McCann SE, Hullar MAJ, Tritchler DL, Cortes-Gomez E, Yao S, Davis W, O'Connor T, Erwin D, Thompson LU, Yan L, Lampe JW. Enterolignan Production in a Flaxseed Intervention Study in Postmenopausal US Women of African Ancestry and European Ancestry. Nutrients. 2021 Mar 12;13(3):919. doi: 10.3390/nu13030919. PMID: 33809130; PMCID: PMC8001909.
  4. Taibi A, Lin Z, Tsao R, Thompson LU, Comelli EM. Effects of Flaxseed and Its Components on Mammary Gland MiRNome: Identification of Potential Biomarkers to Prevent Breast Cancer Development. Nutrients. 2019 Nov 4;11(11):2656. doi: 10.3390/nu11112656. PMID: 31689992; PMCID: PMC6893416.
  5. Chang H, Yao S, Tritchler D, Hullar MA, Lampe JW, Thompson LU, McCann SE. Genetic Variation in Steroid and Xenobiotic Metabolizing Pathways and Enterolactone Excretion Before and After Flaxseed Intervention in African American and European American Women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2019 Feb;28(2):265-274. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-18-0826. PMID: 30709839; PMCID: PMC6363829.
  6. Chang VC, Cotterchio M, Boucher BA, Jenkins DJA, Mirea L, McCann SE, Thompson LU. Effect of Dietary Flaxseed Intake on Circulating Sex Hormone Levels among Postmenopausal Women: A Randomized Controlled Intervention Trial. Nutr Cancer. 2019;71(3):385-398. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2018.1516789. Epub 2018 Oct 30. PMID: 30375890.
  7. LeMay-Nedjelski L, Mason-Ennis JK, Taibi A, Comelli EM, Thompson LU. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Time-Dependently Reduce Cell Viability and Oncogenic MicroRNA-21 Expression in Estrogen Receptor-Positive Breast Cancer Cells (MCF-7). Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Jan 14;19(1):244. doi: 10.3390/ijms19010244. PMID: 29342901; PMCID: PMC5796192.
  8. Mason JK, Klaire S, Kharotia S, Wiggins AK, Thompson LU. α-linolenic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, alone and combined with trastuzumab, reduce HER2-overexpressing breast cancer cell growth but differentially regulate HER2 signaling pathways. Lipids Health Dis. 2015 Aug 18;14:91. doi: 10.1186/s12944-015-0090-6. PMID: 26282560; PMCID: PMC4539855.
  9. Wiggins AK, Kharotia S, Mason JK, Thompson LU. α-Linolenic Acid Reduces Growth of Both Triple Negative and Luminal Breast Cancer Cells in High and Low Estrogen Environments. Nutr Cancer. 2015;67(6):1001-9. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2015.1053496. Epub 2015 Jul 2. PMID: 26134471.
  10. Wiggins AK, Mason JK, Thompson LU. Growth and gene expression differ over time in alpha-linolenic acid treated breast cancer cells. Exp Cell Res. 2015 Apr 10;333(1):147-54. doi: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2015.02.020. Epub 2015 Mar 2. PMID: 25743093.