Thomas H Barker


Primary Appointment

Professor, Biomedical Engineering


  • PhD, Biomedical Engineering, University of Alabama, Birmingham

Research Disciplines

Biomedical Engineering, Cell and Developmental Biology, Development, Stem Cells & Regeneration, Experimental Pathology

Research Interests

Matrix Biology and Engineering

Research Description

My lab is primarily focused on both understanding and manipulating cell-ECM mechanotransduction pathways in homeostasis and disease. Our primary interest is in understanding how cells' changing microenvironment direct their phenotype and initiate pathological programs, primarily tissue fibrosis and scar formation. Both cells and their extracellular matrix (ECM) are exquisitely sensitive to mechanical forces and slight perturbations in the mechanical homeostasis between cells and their ECM can initiate pathological programs that lead to tissue destruction and even death. For example, pulmonary fibrosis is a fatal disease driven in large part by stiffening of lung tissue due to chronic wound repair. Once the tissue becomes stiff, normal cells are recruited into a pathological program that ultimately leads to complete destruction of the lung and death of the patient. There are no cures and very few viable medical options for treating the disease. For these reasons, understanding how the fibrotic program is both initiated and persists will lead to new breakthroughs in treating these fatal diseases.

Personal Statement

"We develop therapeutics to fibrosis, or scar formation. While scars of the skin might be unsightly, scars in organs, like the lung, kill people."
Dr. Barker is a Professor in Biomedical Engineering in the Schools of Engineering and Medicine at the University of Virginia. He performed his academic and scientific training with Drs. James Hagood, Joanne Murhpy-Ullrich, Helene Sage, and Jeffrey Hubbell prior to his first faculty post at Georgia Institute of Technology, where he spend 10 years as an Assistant and Associate Professor. Dr. Barkerâs research integrates engineering and quantitative approaches with basic cell and molecular biology to understand and control cell phenotype through their interactions with natural and engineered extracellular matrices. Dr. Barker is also focused on understanding the fundamental roles of cell mechanotransduction and mechanical forces in regulating the biochemical activity of proteins in the extracellular matrix toward wound repair, regeneration, and fibrosis. Dr. Barker has established a number of fundamental systems based on rational mutagenesis, molecular evolution of extracellular matrix protein fragments and antibodies that allow both basic biochemical and cell biological studies on the ECM and detection and treatment of organ fibrosis. Dr. Barker has co-authored research and review papers in leading cell biology, matrix biology, and biomaterials journals, he received the NIH Directorâs Transformative Research Award in 2015. Dr. Barker was also the recipient of the American Society for Matrix Biologyâs Young Investigator Award in 2012 and Iozzo Award in 2016.


  • Basic Cardiovascular Research Training Grant
  • Biotechnology Training Grant
  • Cancer Research Training in Molecular Biology

Selected Publications

Li S, Nih LR, Bachman H, Fei P, Li Y, Nam E, Dimatteo R, Carmichael ST, Barker TH, Segura T, Hydrogels with precisely controlled integrin activation dictate vascular patterning and permeability., 2017; Nature materials. 16(9) 953-961. PMID: 28783156

Douglas AM, Fragkopoulos AA, Gaines MK, Lyon LA, Fernandez-Nieves A, Barker TH, Dynamic assembly of ultrasoft colloidal networks enables cell invasion within restrictive fibrillar polymers., 2017; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 114(5) 885-890. PMID: 28100492 | PMCID: PMC5293010

Fiore VF, Strane PW, Bryksin AV, White ES, Hagood JS, Barker TH, Conformational coupling of integrin and Thy-1 regulates Fyn priming and fibroblast mechanotransduction., 2015; The Journal of cell biology. 211(1) 173-90. PMID: 26459603 | PMCID: PMC4602038

Brown AC, Stabenfeldt SE, Ahn B, Hannan RT, Dhada KS, Herman ES, Stefanelli V, Guzzetta N, Alexeev A, Lam WA, Lyon LA, Barker TH, Ultrasoft microgels displaying emergent platelet-like behaviours., 2014; Nature materials. 13(12) 1108-1114. PMID: 25194701 | PMCID: PMC4239187

Fiore VF, Ju L, Chen Y, Zhu C, Barker TH, Dynamic catch of a Thy-1-α5β1+syndecan-4 trimolecular complex., 2014; Nature communications. 5() 4886. PMID: 25216363

Booth AJ, Hadley R, Cornett AM, Dreffs AA, Matthes SA, Tsui JL, Weiss K, Horowitz JC, Fiore VF, Barker TH, Moore BB, Martinez FJ, Niklason LE, White ES, Acellular normal and fibrotic human lung matrices as a culture system for in vitro investigation., 2012; American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine. 186(9) 866-76. PMID: 22936357 | PMCID: PMC3530219