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CMI-FTE Seminar: Dr. Thomas H. Barker

On March 19, 2019, Dr. Thomas H. Barker spoke as part of the CMI  Functional Tissue Engineering 2018-2019 Seminar Series.   Dr. Barker is the UVA Fibrosis Initiative Director and Full Professor from the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Cell Biology at the University of Virginia.  His seminar is entitled: Cells and their Matrix: A Struggle for Power.

Increasingly, the extracellular matrix (ECM) microenvironment is appreciated as a potent instructor of cell phenotype. Recent examples that highlight the role of ECM in directing tissue homeostasis and disease include tumor stroma that instruct metastasis and ECM mechanics that drive the differentiation of pro-fibrotic myofibroblasts. Dr. Barker’s lab has focused on the dynamic reciprocity between mesenchymal stroma cells (fibroblasts), the arbiter of tissue remodeling, and their extracellular matrix microenvironment. Recent findings from the lab suggest there are far greater complexities in fibroblast-matrix communication than previously thought. He presented multiple vignettes from their recent work that shed light on: 1) how elevated matrix stiffness sensitizes fibroblasts to the critical cytokine TGFb through a novel cytoplasmic Smad regulatory complex, 2) an integrin adaptor protein, Thy-1, the absence of which classifies a disease relevant fibroblast subpopulation that is primed to undergo myofibroblastic differentiation in normal ECM microenvironments, and 3) how posttranslational modifications of the provisional/wound healing matrix add another level of complexity to cell-matrix homeostasis in the context of disease.

Dr. Barker’s research activities center on cell-extracellular matrix biology, focused primarily on fibroblast-ECM interactions that drive repair and fibrosis. His research integrates engineering applications and basic cell and molecular biology approaches to understand and control cell phenotype through the extracellular matrices. Dr. Barker has co-authored research and review papers in leading cell biology, matrix biology, and biomaterials journals and receives funding from the Coulter Foundation, NIH, DOD, and the Health Effects Institute. He received both the Young Investigator Award (2012) and the top research award, the Iozzo Award (2016), from the American Society for Matrix Biology and received the NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award in 2015.