The Blackburn lab studies the mechanisms through which the thymus develops and is maintained. We investigate the biology of thymic epithelial progenitor/stem cells and the cellular and molecular mechanisms that maintain the postnatal organ with the aim of developing rational cell replacement or regenerative strategies for boosting thymus function in order to stimulate T cell production in patients.
The Blackburn lab studies three major strands of thymus biology: development, maintenance and age-related degeneration. We are particularly interested in the regulation of epithelial progenitor/stem cells in the fetal and adult thymus. Our overarching aim is to restore thymus function in immunocompromised patients, using cell replacement or regenerative strategies based on fundamental science. We co-discovered the population of fetal tissue stem/progenitor cells from which the thymus arises during development, and demonstrated that this population can establish a properly organized, fully functional thymus upon transplantation. Recently, we showed that manipulation of a single transcription factor is sufficient to regenerate the aged thymus, even when the organ has fully degenerated.
Prof Blackburn is also coordinator of the EU funded project ThymiStem.
Clare Blackburn also has a strong interest in public engagement. She leads the pan-European project EuroStemCell which links more than 90 European stem cell and regenerative medicine research labs to engage with publics about stem cell science and medicine. She has a personal interest in the use of film as a tool for public engagement in science, and has co-produced 7 documentary films including the feature-length ‘Stem Cell Revolutions’. In 2012, she was awarded the University’s Tam Dalyell Prize for Public Engagement, together with Dr Amy Hardie (Edinburgh College of Art).
Lab in the news
Professor Blackburn has recently published a paper with the University of Dundee on a possible link between immune system ageing and the incidence of cancer with age. See news article "Immune system could be key in fight against cancer"
New and noted
Prof Nancy Manley, University of Georgia, Athens, USA