Professor Barry Thompson

EMBL Australia Partner Laboratory Group Leader

After obtaining a BSc(Hons) from Institute for Molecular Biology (IMB) at the University of Queensland, Professor Thompson undertook a PhD at the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology at the University of Cambridge, where he learned Drosophila genetics.  Professor Thompson then worked as a postdoc at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, where he used Drosophila genetics to study Hippo signalling and tumour formation, and visited the Research Institute for Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Austria to perform a large scale RNAi screen in Drosophila.

He established his own laboratory at the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute (LRI) in 2007 and began his studies on genes that control tissue growth and form in Drosophila and mouse models.  The LRI became part of the newly founded Francis Crick Institute in 2015, where Professor Thompson became a Senior Group Leader and Wellcome Investigator.  He moved to become an EMBL Australia Group Leader at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (at the Australian National University, Canberra) in 2019.

Research interests

Most human cancers arise in epithelial tissues, such as the skin or intestinal tract.  A population of basal stem cells normally proliferates to maintain epithelial homeostasis and to regenerate tissues after damage.  The same stem cells are also the origin of tumour formation.   We seek to understand how epithelial stem cells normally function and how their activity becomes misregulated in cancers.  

My laboratory uses Drosophila, mouse and human organoids in culture as model systems to explore how stem cells construct epithelial tissues during development and how epithelial tumours can arise.

We focus on the questions of how cell polarity organises the behaviour of cells within an epithelium, and how signalling pathways control cell proliferation within an epithelia.  A major interest has been the Hippo-YAP/TAZ signalling pathway, which responds to apical and basal polarity cues, cell-matrix interactions, and mechanical forces to regulate cell proliferation and cellular morphology during development.

Our experiments combine three main approaches to identify molecular mechanisms responsible for organising cell polarity and cell behaviour during tissue growth and morphogenesis in epithelia:

  • Genetic analysis of gene functions in vivo;
  • Live-imaging of epithelial tissue development; and
  • Computational modelling of cell polarity and cell behaviour.
  • Analysis of human cancer patient samples