May 2023: David Owens Lab


What is the main focus of your lab?

The contributions of stem cells and differentiated cells to the development of normal and neoplastic skin.

How long have you had your lab? When did you join Columbia University?

I started my lab here following my postdoc in Oct 2003.

How big is your lab currently?

4 permanent members and 2 undergrads

Where is your lab located?

Russ Berrie, 3rd FL, Room 312

Current affairs:

What are the most exciting projects/directions in the lab at this moment?

First, we are currently investigating progenitor cell heterogeneity in an epidermal niche specialized for mechanosensory signaling, termed the touch dome. Second, we are investigating two signaling pathways, CD200-CD200R axis and Tbc1d10c, that are important for the regulation of an immunosuppressive microenvironment in solid malignancies in the skin.

What are the biggest accomplishments that your lab recently had?

We identified the collagen proteinase Cathepsin K as a downstream target gene of the CD200-CD200R axis that is required for metastastic spread of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. We also recently identified Tbc1d10c as a suppressor of the CD8 anti-tumor response and described the mechanism by which Tbc1d10c intersects NF-kB signaling via regulation of Map3k3 protein stability.


What are the model systems that your lab is using? 

For our stem cell and cancer projects, our lab relies heavily on mouse models. We employ numerous CreERT2 lines to gain genetic access to skin epithelial progenitors, using conditional reporter alleles, and

What are the key techniques that your lab is using? Are you open to training scientists from other labs?

We perform chemical carcinogenesis experiments, orthotopic tumor assays, whole skin immunolabeling and imaging, adoptive transfer of immune cells and the isolation and propagation (2D and 3D) of numerous skin lineages in vitro. Happy to help anyone who may be interested in learning these techniques

What facilities or equipment does your lab absolutely rely upon? Do you use CSCI cores?

Proteomics, bulk and single cell sequencing, spatial transcriptomics, and flow cytometry. We occasionaly use the CSCI flow core.

Who shall be contacted with questions about equipment, resources and training?

Rong Du (rd2305) or Olga Yarygina (oy12)


What's your best approach to mentoring trainees in the lab?

Honestly, I’ve learned that there is no single best approach. Each trainee has unique strengths, weaknesses and personality. As such, the mentoring plan needs to be tailored to best suit these features.

Who were your most influential mentors/role models in science and what did you learn from them?

Rob Smart (PhD Advisor) engrained in me the scientific method. While laboratories are becoming more analytical, the scientific method is still the backbone of everything we do in the lab today. Fiona Watt (Postdoc Advisor) introduced me to the world of adult epithelial stem cells, which I still pursue today.

Can you recommend courses/lectures in Columbia University that would be most beneficial for students/postdocs?

I strongly recommend that young, non-computational trainees gain some proficiency R, Python etc.

What would be your career advice for students/postdocs?

Build strong relationships with your mentors early in your career. You will need their advice long after you leave their lab/class room.

Are you accepting rotating students at the moment?


Lab management:

How do members of your lab celebrate accomplishments?

Toasting the occasion with adult beverages.

Does your lab have any fun traditions?

Nothing too crazy, just holiday lab dinners. Always open to new traditions.

What is the key to running a successful lab?

We fail more than we succeed: open communication channels and establishing trust with all members of the lab is critical to the ability to tackle tough questions.

What was the most exciting part about starting your new lab?

It was a while ago, but I seem to remember being excited about meeting those early hires who were willing to take a chance on me as a new PI and work with me to solve important question in the skin stem cell field.

Stem Cell Directions:

What are the most important recent developments in the stem cell field?

Chemical induction of stem cell potency, stem cell regulation of anti-aging pathways, and patient-derived and multicellular organoid systems as a substitute for mouse models.

Which stem cell conferences does your lab attend?

Epithelial keratinization Gordon Conference.


What was the main reason of you joining CSCI? What are the beneficial aspects of CSCI membership for your lab?

Participation in the seminar and WIP series and use of the Core facilities.

What do you plan to bring to the CSCI community?

We have scientific and technical expertise in cutaneous epidermal stem cell biology.