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

2021-          Participation in CARD0006. Cardiovascular Biology Module, UCL.

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 two days course.  University of Sevilla, Spain.

2009- 2019 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, Argentina. She has received a Prize for young scientist (under 26) and a Fellowship from the Argentinean and Mexican Council to do her PhD with Marcelino Cereijido at the Centre for Research and Advanced Studies, Mexico, where her passion for the cell-cell junctional complex started. Maria then obtained an Anna Fuller Postdoctoral Fellowship from Yale University, USA, to work with James Anderson. There she contributed to the identification of the sequence of the first tight junction protein, ZO-1, and continued the identification of signal transduction mechanisms that guide tight junction assembly and function. She then moved the University of Geneva, Switzerland, where she collaborated with  Karl Matter to perform the first functional analysis of a tight junction transmembrane protein, occludin.  In 2000, Maria started as Group Leader at University College London’s Institute of Ophthalmology. Maria has identified and characterised different types of novel tight junction proteins. Maria is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms through which cell-cell junctions are involved in health and disease.  Maria is applying this knowledge to develop therapeutic tools to reverse disease conditions such as proliferative or degenerative eye diseases and tumorigenesis.  Maria is a British Society for Cell Biology committee member, Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and associate editor of different Journals. Maria’s scientific publications have over 13000 citations; her research career is remarkable indicated by an h-index of 56.