UCL Institute of Ophthalmology

Prof Maria Balda

Prof Maria Balda

Professor of Cell Biology

Institute of Ophthalmology

Faculty of Brain Sciences

Joined UCL
1st Jan 2001

Research summary

Epithelial and endothelial cells form selective barriers between compartments of different composition. To perform this function, they have a specialised intercellular junctional complex (tight and adherens junctions, desmosomes and gap junctions). Assembly and disassembly of the junctional complex is tightly regulated during physiological conditions, but is disturbed in pathological situations such as wounds, inflammation, neovascularisation or transformation. Our research interest is to understand the molecular mechanisms through which tight junctions regulate paracellular permeability, cell proliferation and gene expression as well as to find out whether and how the tight junction signalling pathways interact with related signalling pathways triggered by cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix interactions. Our findings will be used not only to understand physiologically complex processes ranging from tubulogenesis of epithelial and endothelial cells to the development of the eye but also to develop therapeutic tools to reverse pathological conditions such as tumorigenesis and proliferative or degenerative eye diseases.

Teaching summary

2014-          Participation in PHOL3016/PHOLG014. Epithelial function in health and disease. Division of Bioscience. UCL

2012-2020  Deputy in the MSc in Microvascular Biology. Cardiovascular Biology Module, UCL
2012           The role of cell-cell adhesion in health and disease. Lead of two days course.  University of Sevilla, Spain.

2009-          Participation in the MSc in Ocular Cell Biology, Institute of Ophthalmology, UCL

2004-2005 Learning and Teaching in High Education. Module II: "Towards the develop of the scientist mind".  Education and Professional Development. UCL. 
2002-2004  Participation in the course on Molecular Basis of Disease Pathway. Tight junctions in health and disease. Department of Biology. Imperial College. London.UK
2002-2003 Learning and Teaching in High Education Programme. Module I: "Exploring Learning". Education and Professional Development. UCL.


University College London
Other Postgraduate qualification (including professional), Certificate in Learning and Teaching in HE Part 2 | 2004
Not stated
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 1990
Universidad de Buenos Aires
First Degree, Bachelor Biomedical Science (Honours) | 1982


Maria S. Balda graduated from the University of Buenos Aires in 1982 and received her doctorate in Physiology in 1990 from the Centre for Research and Advanced Studies, Mexico. From 1990 to 1994, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale School of Medicine, CT, and U.S.A, then Research Associate at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.  From 2000 to 2004 she held a Lectureship at University College London, Institute of Ophthalmology. In 2004 she was promoted to Reader and 2011 to Professor. She is a member of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), British Society for Cell Biology (BSCB) and Fellow of the Society of Biology. She is BSCB committee member and associated Editor of Open Cell Development and Biology Journal, BMC Cell Biology, Faculty 1000.

Maria S. Balda has received a Start Research Career Fellowship from the Argentinean Council for Scientific Research (1982-1985), a Prize for young scientist (under 26, 1983) given by the Faculty of Biochemistry University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, a Fellowship for Scientific Interchange given by Mexican and Argentinean Councils for Scientific Research (1987-1990), and an Anna Fuller Postdoctoral Fellowship (1990-1992, Yale University, USA). Royal Society of Biology selected fellow (2013, London UK). British Society for Cell Biology (2016).

Epithelial and endothelial cells are connected to one another by specific complexes of proteins that mediate adhesion and are essential for tissue integrity. One of those cell-cell junctional complexes is the tight junction, which regulates the passage of molecules through the paracellular pathway and acts as an apical/basolateral intramembrane diffusion barrier for lipids and proteins. Maria S. Balda has identified several novel protein complexes and performed functional analyses of the molecular mechanisms by which tight junctions regulate paracellular permeability, gene expression, cell proliferation and differentiation. Now, she is working on how to manipulate tight junction proteins as potential targets for the development of novel therapies for proliferative and degenerative eye diseases.  Maria S. Balda is author or co-author of >100 scientific publications and books chapters (h-index 52; i10-index 86; > 11000 citations).