Alcolea headshot

Dr Maria Alcolea

Epithelial cell fate and plasticity


Laboratory Location:

Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, Gleeson Building

Departmental Affiliation:

Department of Oncology

Alcolea research image 2-1ratio
Oesophageal progenitors (yellow cells) redefine their behaviour in response to injury. White label indicates cells recruited to proliferation (Science 2012, 31;337(6098):1091-3).


My research interests have been focused on studying the behaviour of progenitor cells in the mouse oesophagus as a model to unveil the basic rules underlying squamous epithelial cell fate. My work in the field has revealed how this tissue is maintained under homeostatic conditions, and how these rules switch upon injury. More recently I have been able to identify how progenitor cells alter and adapt their behaviour in response to preneoplastic mutations, reflecting their remarkable cellular plasticity. Investigating the cellular and molecular mechanisms governing this dynamic behaviour and the potential implications for early cancer development will constitute the basis of my research programme.

To answer these questions, I will make use of a combination of in vivo lineage tracing techniques, transcriptional network analysis, as well as 3D organoid and explant culture systems.

For people interested in joining my lab, please contact me directly (

Plain English

Epithelial cells have the essential role of protecting us from external aggressions. However, this critical barrier must be able to adapt in order to face changes during developmental tissue formation and wound healing. A cut in our skin activates a number of cellular responses ensuring that the breach is fixed in few days, recovering the protective barrier. However, given that development and wound healing require the production of a significant amount of new tissue in a relatively short time, it is not surprising that cancer cells mimic these processes to rapidly produce a tumour mass. The difference being that tissue formation and wound repair are very controlled processes, while cancer is not. My proposed research aims to investigate these adaptive cellular responses and the molecular mechanisms behind them in order to understand epithelial tissue behaviour, and how this can go awry during cancer development.

Key Publications

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