Robert G. Thorne, PhD

Affiliated Pharmaceutics Faculty, Department of Pharmaceutics
Robert G. Thorne


Office Phone
Office Address

151 Oyster Point Boulevard
South San Francisco, CA 94080
United States


Affiliated Pharmaceutics Faculty, Department of Pharmaceutics


PhD in Pharmaceutics (collateral in Neuroscience), University of Minnesota

BS in Chemical Engineering, University of Washington


Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Physiology and Neuroscience, New York University School of Medicine

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Robert G. Thorne, PhD has served as an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutics at the University of Minnesota since February 2019. He is currently a full-time Denali Fellow with Denali Therapeutics (September 2018 to present). He previously worked for over 10 years on the faculty at New York University School of Medicine and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was most recently an Assistant Professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences, a faculty member of the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, and a Trainer in the Neuroscience, Cellular and Molecular Pathology, and Clinical Neuroengineering Training Programs. Dr. Thorne has a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Washington and a PhD in Pharmaceutics (collateral field in Neuroscience) from the University of Minnesota.


The focus of Dr. Thorne’s research has been to develop a mechanistic understanding of drug delivery to the brain. One of his main interests has been the study of diffusive and convective transport within the extracellular and perivascular spaces of the central nervous system – his group’s work has aimed to leverage knowledge of physiology, CNS structure, and the blood-brain and blood-cerebrospinal fluid barriers with a variety of methods in order to identify how best to deliver antibodies, oligonucleotides, and gene therapy vectors to the brain following intraparenchymal, intrathecal, or intranasal administration. Dr. Thorne’s work with Denali Therapeutics is now focused on a variety of engineering approaches for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, including novel blood-brain barrier transport vehicles allowing disease-modifying antibody or enzyme delivery and adeno-associated virus-based vectors for CNS gene therapy. The ultimate aim of this new work is to enable new first-in-class treatments informed by genetics, biology, and biomarker-based approaches.

Awards & Recognition

Dr. Thorne’s scientific achievements include pioneering measurements of extracellular diffusion in the brain to determine the width of brain extracellular spaces and CNS binding interactions in vivo, elucidation of physiologic determinants governing perivascular space access and transport from the CSF, and the identification of transport pathways allowing large molecule entry into the brain from the nasal passages. Dr. Thorne has taught systems neuroscience, neuroanatomy, drug delivery, pharmacokinetics, research ethics, and science communication to graduate, professional and undergraduate students at a variety of academic institutions, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, New York University School of Medicine, the University of Washington, and Stanford. Robert previously chaired the 2016 ‘Barriers of the CNS’ Gordon Research Conference and co-edited the 2014 book ‘Drug Delivery to the Brain: Physiological Concepts, Methodologies and Approaches’ with Margareta Hammarlund-Udenaes and Elizabeth de Lange. Working with Reina Bendayan and Per-Ola Freskgard, Dr. Thorne has been responsible for establishing and co-chairing a new AAPS-IBBS Workshop on ‘Novel Approaches Targeting Brain Barriers for Effective Delivery of Therapeutics’, to be held for the first time in 2019. He is currently a member of the editorial boards of both Fluids and Barriers of the CNS and the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism and was elected in 2017 to serve as the Vice President (President-elect) of the International Brain Barriers Society, a global organization responsible for leadership and directing worldwide initiatives related to the CNS barriers and drug delivery fields.

Professional Associations

  • Vice President (President-Elect), International Brain Barriers Society (IBBS)
  • American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists
  • Society for Neuroscience

Research Summary/Interests

Neuroscience; drug delivery to the brain

Research Methods/Techniques

Imaging, electron microscopy, radiolabel- and fluorescence-based methods, in vivo preparations, cranial windows

Teaching Areas

Systems neuroscience, neuroanatomy, drug delivery, pharmacokinetics, research ethics, and science communication


Selected publications:

  1. Thorne & Nicholson. (2006) PNAS 103:5567-5572.
  2. Thorne et al. (2008) PNAS 105:8416-8421.
  3. Wolak & Thorne. (2013) Molecular Pharmaceutics 10:1492-504.
  4. Wolak et al. (2015) Journal of Controlled Release 197:78-86.
  5. Pizzo et al. (2018) Journal of Physiology 596:445-475.
  6. Jane-Hannocks et al. (2018) Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism 38:669-686.
  7. Abbott et al. (2018) Acta Neuropathologica 135:387-407.
  8. Thorne et al. (2004) Neuroscience 127:481-96.
  9. Thorne et al. (2008) Neuroscience 152:785-97.
  10. Lochhead and Thorne. (2012) Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews 64:614-628.
  11. Lochhead et al. (2015) Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism 35:371-381.
  12. Kumar et al. (2018) Journal of Controlled Release 286:467-484.