Ewch i’r prif gynnwys
Toby Phesse

Dr Toby Phesse


Ysgol y Biowyddorau

+44 29206 88495
Adeilad Hadyn Ellis, Heol Maendy, Caerdydd, CF24 4HQ
Ar gael fel goruchwyliwr ôl-raddedig


My research is interested in how cell signalling regulates cell function in normal tissue, stem cells and tumours to gain insight into how cancer is initiated, grows and metastasises. We then use this information to identify novel targets and strategies to treat various cancers, with a focus on the Wnt signalling pathway and gastrointestinal and prostate.

We aim to employ a bench-to-bedside approach in which applied research in preclinical models using genetic and molecular techniques is complimented with pharmacological strategies with our industrial and clinical collaborators thus enabling translation to potential clinical applications and ultimaelty improving patient health.

Current lab members:

Dr Valerie Meniel (Post Doc)

Dr Sarah Shoukyar (Post Doc)

Miss Chloe Austin (PhD student)



















Book sections


My primary research interest is in understanding how cell signalling controls homeostasis, regeneration, stem cell function and disease, with a focus on Wnt signalling in the gastrointestinal tract. Many of the cell signalling pathways that are critical for embryonic development, homeostasis and regeneration of epithelial tissues are deregulated during disease, and in particular cancer. Thus, by understanding the molecular events that regulate cell signalling during these biological processes, and the aberrations that result in deregulation and disease, we aim to identify novel therapeutic strategies.

My lab uses a combination of advanced in vitro techniques, such as organoid cultures (Fig. 1), together with sophisticated mouse models (Fig. 2), to gain new insights into the requirement for cell signalling during the biology of the adult gastrointestinal epithelium, and thus understand how deregulated signalling results in disease.

Stem cells are intimately associated with cancer, as they have frequently been demonstrated to be the cell of origin for several different cancers including the intestine. The discovery of Lgr5 as a marker of intestinal stem cells has provided a powerful research tool to enable further insight into the biology of the intestine and the role of stem cells in cancer.  Indeed, Lgr5 also marks a population of cancer stem cells which is able to provide the proliferative and self-renewal properties of intestinal tumours. Thus, understanding what regulates stem cells is a major interest in the field and our lab is particularly interested in the role of Wnt signalling.

Although the Wnt pathway is deregulated in around 85% of colon tumours it is also required, at lower levels, for the normal homeostatic function of the intestine, and during regeneration. The cytoplasmic signal transducers involved in Wnt signalling have been well characterised, and current research continues to gain new insights into its complexity and interaction with other pathways (Bollrath and Phesse et al, Cancer Cell, 2009 and Phesse et al, Science Signalling, 2014). Compared to the cytoplasmic Wnt regulators, the Wnt receptor complex is relatively poorly understood.  Indeed, it is still not fully documented which of the 10 mammalian Frizzled Wnt receptors bind to which of the 19 mammalian Wnt ligands. It was only in 2015 that we demonstrated that Frizzled7 is the predominant Wnt receptor required for intestinal stem cell function (Flanagan and Phesse et al, Stem Cell Reports, 2015 and reviewed in Phesse et al, Cancers, 2016), and current projects are investigating the role of this receptor in other organs and disease settings.

The bacteria Helicobacter pylori is estimated to infect around 50% of the world’s population, and is strongly associated with the development of gastric cancer, but very little is known regarding how infection triggers this pathology.  In collaboration with colleagues at the Capital Medical University in Beijing, we are also investigating the requirement for Wnt signalling in H pylori associated gastric cancer.

Key Collaborators

Professor Owen Sansom – Beatson CRUK, Scotland

Professor Elizabeth Vincan – University of Melbourne, Australia

Professor Nick Barker – AStar Institute, Singapore


I give lectures, workshops and tutorials in several subjects including biotechnology, cancer biology and stem cells.

I have taught in the following modules at Caridff: BI3352, BI2233 and BI3212.

In 2020 I lead the organisation for the small group teaching sessions 3 and 4 in the BI3352 module.


Dr Phesse was awarded his PhD from the University of Warwick where he studied the co-operation between Wnt signalling and TGF-β signalling during embryonic development.  It was during this project that he learned of the important role that Wnt signalling played during cancer, and subsequently secured a post-doc position in the laboratory of Professor Alan Clarke at Cardiff University. It was in Alan’s lab that he cultivated his primary research interest, studying how cell signalling regulates homeostasis, stem cell function, regeneration and cancer.  His work has focussed mainly on the Wnt signalling pathway and the gastrointestinal tract, although he has also investigated other organs including the liver, prostate and skin, with the underlying goal of identifying novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of disease, and especially cancer.

After three successful years with Alan, Toby obtained a Fellowship from the British Council to work at the Ludwig Institute in Melbourne to study the interaction between Wnt signalling and gp130/Stat3 signalling in GI cancer. He published this work in Cancer Cell in 2009 which has since been cited over 300 times. He subsequently maintained continuous National Health Medical Research Council funding for the following 6 years which enabled him to manage a small research group in a variety of institutes, including the prestigious Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the University of Melbourne, studying the role of cell signalling in regeneration and cancer.

In 2016 he was appointed Senior Research Fellow and co-lab head at the University of Melbourne, before being awarded additional UK based fellowships (Wellcome Trust and Capital Medical University) to facilitate his move back the Cardiff as a Fellow at the new established European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute at Cardiff University. In 2018 I was awarded additional funding from the MRC to enable the lab to pursue ambitious, long term projects.

I have an ongoing position at University of Melbourne as an Honorary Senior Fellow, and maintain close links there with co-funding and close research interests with colleagues there.

Aelodaethau proffesiynol

Cymrawd yr Academi Addysg Uwch

Safleoedd academaidd blaenorol

2018 – present

Tenured Senior Fellow in European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute, Cardiff University.

2016 - present

Group Leader Research Fellow in European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute, Cardiff University.

2016 - present

Honorary Senior Fellow, Doherty Institute, University of Melbourne, Australia.


Co-lab Head with Prof. Vincan,  Doherty Institute, University of Melbourne, Australia.

2012 – 2015

Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Australia.

2008 - 2012

Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at The Ludwig Institute of Cancer Research Ltd. in the laboratory of Professor Matthias Ernst, Melbourne, Australia.

2008 - 2012

Honorary Fellow of The University of Melbourne, Department of Surgery and Department of Medical Biology, Australia, Melbourne.

2004 - 2008

Postdoctor at Cardiff University, UK in the laboratory of Professor Alan Clarke.

Pwyllgorau ac adolygu

Grant Reviewer for MRC, BBSRC, NHMRC (Aus), Wolrdwide Cancer Research and British Skin Foundation

Journal Reviewer for many journals including Nature, Nat Cell Biol, EMBO Reports, Oncogene, Carcinogenesis and DMM

Meysydd goruchwyliaeth

Mae gen i ddiddordeb mewn goruchwylio myfyrwyr PhD ym meysydd:

  • Signalau Wnt
  • Canser gastroberfeddol
  • Canser y prostad
  • Cholangiocarcinoma
  • Virotherapy ar gyfer canser