Professor Rik Thompson

Prof Rik Thompson

SPECIFIC FIELD OF EXPERTISE: Cancer Biology, Breast Cancer, Invasion and Metastasis, Epithelial Mesenchymal Transition, Matrix Metalloproteinases

Prof Erik (Rik) Thompson studied extracellular matrix in the rat testis for his PhD and undertook postdoctoral training in breast cancer invasion and metastasis at NIH, USA and the Lombardi Cancer Research Center, Georgetown University Medical Center, USA. He established a breast cancer Invasion and Metastasis laboratory at Georgetown before returning to St. Vincent’s Institute, Melbourne in 1997 as Group Leader for Invasion and Metastasis in the Victorian Breast Cancer Research Consortium. In 2014, he joined IHBI QUT as Professor in Breast Cancer Research and Theme Leader for ‘Chronic Disease and Ageing’. In 2016, he took up the role of Associate Director of IHBI at the Translational Research Institute.

Rik has maintained a strong interest in epithelial mesenchymal plasticity (EMP) research since the late 1980s. He created the EMPathy Breast Cancer Network in 2008 with National Collaborative Research Program support from the National Breast Cancer Foundation (Australia). EMPathy links 28 investigators across 20 Australian Institutions, seeking to exploit EMP for new diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic opportunities in breast cancer, especially metastatic recurrence. EMPathy has a focus on EMP exhibited by circulating tumour cells (CTCs), as a window into the metastatic process and therapy resistance.

Rik has also developed research interests in the pathobiology of mammographic density as a risk factor for breast cancer over the past decade, based on his long standing interest in extracellular matrix. He developed a model of pairwise comparison of high and low MD material in terms of histological, biological and molecular analyses, both in vitro and in vivo. He is also active in advocacy around MD in Australia, as a founding member of the inforMD Alliance, and head of a working group of the Clinical Oncology Societies of Australia to develop a Consensus Statenent on MD.

Rik is very active in the society of science. He co-founded The International EMT Association (TEMTIA) in 2003, was elected President in 2013, and convened the 2015 TEMTIA meeting in Melbourne, Australia. He was also the founding President of AMATA in 2004 (now the Australasian Genomic Technologies Association) and has served as President of the Matrix Biology Society of Australia and New Zealand (2003), and the Metastasis Research Society (MRS, International, 2010-2012). In 2012, he convened the 12th International Congress of MRS in Brisbane, Australia, and created OzMRS – An Australasian Chapter of MRS.

Key Achievements and Awards

  • Creation of the EMPathy BCN network as an actively funded and engaged national collaborative team with a structured approach to new advances in breast cancer diagnosis and therapy
  • Demonstration that specific MMP13-targetting agents have efficacy in experimental breast cancer and bone-metastasised lesions, and may have translational potential
  • Establishment of the biology theme for a multidisciplinary research program into the molecular and cellular underpinnings of the breast cancer risk associated with increased mammographic density
  • Matrix Biology Society of Australia and New Zealand Barry Preston Award (2001)
  • NBCF Pink Circle Research Award (2010)


  • Viet-Phuong Le, Anh, Szaumkessel, Marcin, Tan, Tuan Zea, Thiery, Jean-Paul, , & Dobrovic, Alexander (2018) DNA methylation profiling of breast cancer cell lines along the epithelial mesenchymal spectrum - implications for the choice of circulating tumour DNA methylation markers. [Working Paper] (Unpublished)
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  • , Gunasinghe, N.P.A. Devika, , Tanaka, T., , Hill, P., Gilles, Christine, , &  (2017) Epithelial requirement for in vitro proliferation and xenograft growth and metastasis of MDA-MB-468 human breast cancer cells: oncogenic rather than tumor-suppressive role of E-cadherin. Breast Cancer Research19, Article number: 86 1-25.
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  • Francart, Marie-Emilie, Lambert, Justine, Vanwynsberghe, Aline, , Bourcy, Morgane, Polette, Myriam, & Gilles, Christine (2018) Epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity and circulating tumor cells: Travel companions to metastases. Developmental Dynamics247(3), pp. 432-450.
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  • , &  (2017) Targeting epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity in cancer: clinical and preclinical advances in therapy and monitoring. Biochemical Journal474(19), pp. 3269-3306.
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