Associate Professor Mathias Francois

Principal Research Fellow

Institute for Molecular Bioscience
+61 7 334 62494


Dr Mat Francois a molecular geneticist specialised in transcription factor biology in embryonic development and inflammation.

Mat's PhD (awarded in 2004) focused on the role of nuclear receptors PPARs in the control of the inflammatory reaction during osteoarthritis. In 2005, he moved to IMB's Koopman Group to study the role of SOX transcription factor in the control of lymphatic vessel development.

Mat launched his independent research career based on the discovery of the role of the transcription factor SOX18 as a molecular switch to induce the embryonic development of the lymphatic vessels. Following up on that finding, he's been awarded with the ASMR Queensland Premier’s award in 2009 and a UQ Foundation Research Excellence Award in 2011.

In September 2011, Mat set up his lab to focus on the initial step of endothelial cell specification and the molecular hierarchy that governs this differentiation program during embryogenesis. Recently he received a CDA (Career Development Award) to elucidate the role of SOX protein in the modulation of the lymphatic and blood vascular growth that control tumour metastasis.

Mat's strategic approach to research is now based on the combination of developmental biology and the use of pathophysiological models (e.g. cancer metastasis and lymphoedema) in combination with a drug discovery pipeline to identify novel therapeutic approaches to block cancer metastasis and manipulate transcription factor activity.

Research Interests

  • Transcriptional regulation of blood and lymphatic vessels
    Lymphatic vessels are a vital component of the vascular system and are essential for immune surveillance and maintaining fluid balance. In the adult, aberrant formation of lymphatic vessels is associated with a wide range of diseases that include chronic inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer metastasis and lymphoedema. Under these pathological conditions, the developmental programs that drive lymphangiogenesis become dysregulated. Therefore, understanding the molecular basis that governs normal lymphatic vessel development in the embryo is a prerequisite to further identify novel target genes and develop potential new therapeutic avenues to prevent aberrant development in adults. Our research identifies and characterises key genetic pathways influencing lymphatic vascular development in the mouse embryo. We are using pre-clinical mouse models of cancer or lymphoedema to validate the central role of developmental programs that are reactivated in these diseases. This work will help us to develop a new class of compounds that will enable the pharmacological management of the lymphatic network, with the view to explore vascular development and establish the basis for drug development. The experimental strategies we have pioneered to perform this translational research program rely on a range of tests and involve close collaborations with other IMB scientists and international research groups with expertise in zebrafish and mouse genetics, medicinal chemistry biophysics and genomics.

Research Impacts

Lymphatic vessels are a vital component of the vascular system and are essential for immune surveillance and maintaining fluid balance. In the adult, aberrant formation of lymphatic vessels is associated with a wide range of diseases that include chronic inflammatory disorders, cancer metastasis and lymphoedema. The vasculature is also centrally important in cardiovascular diseases and cancer progression.

We aim to better understand how the vasculature forms during development and to translate our findings into a deeper understanding of disease. We study several aspects of vascular development and biology.


  • Doctor of Philosophy, PARIS VI


  • Chiang, Ivy Kim-Ni, Fritzsche, Martin, Pichol-Thievend, Cathy, Neal, Alice, Holmes, Kelly, Lagendijk, Anne, Overman, Jeroen, D'Angelo, Donatella, Omini, Alice, Hermkens, Dorien, Lesieur, Emmanuelle, Liu, Ke, Ratnayaka, Indrika, Corada, Monica, Bou-Gharios, George, Carroll, Jason, Dejana, Elisabetta, Schulte-Merker, Stefan, Hogan, Benjamin, Beltrame, Monica, De Val, Sarah and Francois, Mathias (2017) SoxF factors induce Notch1 expression via direct transcriptional regulation during early arterial development. Development, 144 14: 2629-2639. doi:10.1242/dev.146241

  • Villani, Rehan, Hodgson, Samantha, Legrand, Julien, Greaney, Jessica, Wong, Ho Yi, Pichol-Thievend, Cathy, Adolphe, Christelle, Wainwight, Brandon, Francois, Mathias and Khosrotehrani, Kiarash (2017) Dominant-negative Sox18 function inhibits dermal papilla maturation and differentiation in all murine hair types. Development, 144 10: 1887-1895. doi:10.1242/dev.143917

  • Bower, Neil I., Koltowska, Katarzyna, Pichol-Thievend, Cathy, Virshup, Isaac, Paterson, Scott, Lagendijk, Anne K., Wang, Weili, Lindsey, Benjamin W., Bent, Stephen J., Baek, Sungmin, Rondon-Galeano, Maria, Hurley, Daniel G., Mochizuki, Naoki, Simons, Cas, Francois, Mathias, Wells, Christine A., Kaslin, Jan and Hogan, Benjamin M. (2017) Mural lymphatic endothelial cells regulate meningeal angiogenesis in the zebrafish. Nature Neuroscience, 20 6: 774-783. doi:10.1038/nn.4558

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PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

    Other advisors: