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Barry Thompson : Epithelial Biology Laboratory

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We are investigating how cells work together to build a body.

Animals are made up of many different tissues. It is vital that cells within these tissues behave correctly as an organism grows and develops, ensuring that each part of the body is the correct size and shape. If not, this can lead to cancer.

We are using fruit flies and mice as model organisms to understand how cells work together to create sheets of tissue called epithelia. These sheets form the linings that that cover the body and its organs, such as the skin or gut.

To study these tissues, we use powerful microscopes to examine living epithelial cells as they grow and divide. We also search for genes involved in directing the formation of epithelia, and study the consequences of mutations in these genes. And we are making computer simulations to help us understand the underlying processes at work as tissues form.

In order to grow to the correct size, a tissue must control the growth and division of the cells within it. And to make the correct shape, the cells in a tissue must control their individual shapes, orientation, movement and attachments to one another and to the surrounding environment.

We aim to discover the key molecules that control each of these individual cell behaviours, and to discover how the collective behaviour of groups of cells produces tissues of different sizes and shapes.

Our work is revealing how tissues normally develop and maintain themselves in healthy adults, as well as shedding light on what goes wrong in cancer.