David M. Owens, PhD

  • Associate Professor of Epithelial Cell Biology (in Dermatology and Pathology and Cell Biology)
Profile Headshot


Dr. Owens conducted his PhD training in the field of skin carcinogenesis at N.C. State University in Raleigh, NC. Afterwards, Dr. Owens trained as a postdoctoral scientist in the field of epithelial stem cell biology in the lab of Fiona Watt at the Cancer Research Institute in London. Dr. Owens was then recruited to Columbia University in 2003 as an Assistant Professor, jointly appointed in the Departments of Dermatology and Pathology & Cell Biology, to commence his career as an independent scientist. In 2013, Dr. Owens was appointed to Associate Professor. Dr. Owens is an affiliate member of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative and the HICCC Tumor Biology and Microenvironment Program and an active participant on national grant review panels such as the NIH Arthritis, Connective Tissue and Skin study section and the state of Nebraska Stem Cell Advisory Committee.

Email: do2112@columbia.edu

Academic Appointments

  • Associate Professor of Epithelial Cell Biology (in Dermatology and Pathology and Cell Biology)

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • PhD, 1996 Toxicology, North Carolina State University at Raleigh


The overall aim of the research in my laboratory is to define the contributions of stem cells and differentiated cells to normal skin function and neoplastic growth. The epidermis of skin is a multilayered stratified epithelium comprised of a single basal layer of dividing cells that give rise to non-dividing progeny that traverse the upper epidermal layers and terminally differentiate. The epidermis is known to contain reservoirs of multipotent stem cells, which are likely candidates for cells of origin for skin tumors based on their highly proliferative nature and capacity for self-renewal. The accessibility of epithelial stem cell populations in the skin, coupled with a vast arsenal of well-characterized experimental skin cancer models, renders the skin as an ideal tissue for my laboratory to investigate the role of stem cells in epithelial cancer.

To maintain skin homeostasis, epidermal cells must establish extensive communication networks with each other as well as neighboring cell types including melanocytes, mesenchymal cells and various leukocyte lineages. This highly complex communication network, collectively termed the microenvironment, integrates both extracellular and intercellular signals, and regulates the balance between epithelial cell proliferation and differentiation. Over the last few years, my laboratory has made significant inroads in understanding cell-cell communication between differentiated infiltrating cells in the dermis and dividing cells in the basal epidermal layer, and how perturbations in this communication can stimulate the development of skin diseases such as cancer. Along these lines, my laboratory has focused on three main areas of skin biology: i) touch, ii) stem cells, and iii) cancer. We made significant contributions in these areas by our fundamental discoveries of two novel stem cell niches, this isthmus and touch dome, as well as important new insights into the pathogenesis of epithelial cancers with a focus on infiltrating immune lineages. In addition, we are actively investigating the role of the tumor microenvironment including the CD200-CD200R signaling axis in tumor-infiltrating myeloid lineages and the role of Tbc1d10c as an intrinsic suppressor of CD8 T cell activation and cytotoxic effector function.

Selected Publications

  • Cohen, A.O., Woo, S.H., Zhang, J., Cho, J., Ruiz, M.E., Gong, J., Du, R., Yarygina, O., Jafri, D.Z., Bachelor, M.A., Finlayson, M.O., Soni, R.K., Hayden, M.S., and D.M. Owens. Tbc1d10c is a selective, constitutive suppressor of the CD8 T-cell, anti-tumor response. OncoImmunology 11:2141011. doi:10.1080/2162402X.2022.2141011 PMID: 36338148.
  • Khan, I.Z., Del Guzzo, C.A., Shao, A., Cho, J., Du, R., Cohen, A.O. and D.M. Owens The CD200-CD200R axis promotes squamous cell carcinoma metastasis via regulation of Cathepsin K. Cancer Res. 81: 5021-5032, 2021. PMCID: PMC8488015.
  • Doucet, Y.S., S.H. Woo, M.E. Ruiz and D.M. Owens. The touch dome defines an epidermal niche specialized for mechanosensory signaling. Cell Rep. 3: 1759-1765, 2013. PMCID: 23727240.
  • Woo, S.-H., M. Stumpfova, U.B. Jensen, E.A. Lumpkin and D.M. Owens. Identification of epidermal progenitors for the Merkel cell lineage. Development 137: 3965-3971, 2010. PMCID: PMC2976280.
  • Woo, S.-H., Y. Baba, A.M. Franco, E.A. Lumpkin and D.M. Owens. Excitatory glutamate is essential for development and maintenance of the piloneural mechanoreceptor. Development 139: 740-748, 2012. PMCID: PMC3265061 (accompanying “In This Issue” commentary, Development 139:e404)
  • Owens, D.M and E.A. Diversificationand specialization of touch receptors in skin. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine 4(6). pii: a013656, 2014. PMID: 24890830
  • Jensen, U.B., X. Yan, C. Triel, S.-H. Woo, R. Christensen, and D.M. Owens. A distinct population of clonogenic and multipotent murine follicular keratinocytes residing in the upper isthmus. J. Cell Sci. 121: 609-617, 2008. PMCID: PMC2963074.
  • Yan, X. and D.M. Owens. The skin: a home to multiple classes of epithelial progenitor cells. Stem Cell Reviews 4: 113-118, 2008. PMID:18252795
  • Stumpfova, M., D. Ratner, E.B. Desciak, Y.D. Eliezri, and D.M. Owens. The immunosuppressive surface ligand CD200 augments the metastatic capacity of squamous cell carcinoma. Cancer Res. 70: 2962-2972, 2010. PMCID: PMC2848906