Natalia Vergara, PhD
Assistant Professor, Ophthalmology

Download CV
Graduate Schools :
  • PhD, Miami University (2008)
  • Other, Johns Hopkins University (2015)
Languages: English, Spanish
Department: Ophthalmology

Recognition & Awards

  • First prize overall and winner of the “Disease modeling category”, National Eye Institute’s 3D-Retinal Organoid Challenge Award, Phase III., National Eye Institute (2022)
    Title: “3D Human Model of AMD in a dish”. Role: Team Member.
  • Second prize overall and winner of the “Drug screening category”, National Eye Institute’s 3D-Retinal Organoid Challenge Award, Phase III., National Eye Institute (2022)
    Title: “Improved Fluorescent Reporter Quantification-Based 3D Retinal Organoid Paradigms for Drug Screening”. Role: Team Leader.
  • 3D Retinal Organoid Challenge Award, Phase II: Reduction to practice, National Eye Institute (2021)
  • Keystone Symposia Early Career Investigator Travel Award, Keystone Symposia on Molecular and Cellular Biology (2018)
  • Selected as an Emerging Vision Scientist to participate in the Third Annual EVS day on Capitol Hill, National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (2017)

Research Interests

In my current role as the Director of the Ocular Development and Translational Technologies Laboratory within CellSight, the Ocular Stem Cell and Regeneration Program at the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center, my research program focuses on two key areas: I). Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of human retina development and degeneration. II). Engineering stem cell-based disease models and technologies that facilitate the application of human retinal organoids to the development of novel therapeutic drugs for retinal degenerative diseases. To support these goals, I have established fruitful partnerships with industry and academic stakeholders. I am leading a project aimed at developing innovative functional assays that will improve the application of retinal organoid disease models to the pre-clinical validation of drugs with therapeutic potential for retinal degenerative diseases. And through productive collaborations with the Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome and the University of Colorado Alzheimer's and Cognition Center (CUACC), I am advancing exciting research into the ocular manifestations of Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.


  • Course Co-Director (2021)
    School of Medicine, Ophthalmology
    Biology of the Eye (OPHT 5610/NRSC7618- Fall Semester, Graduate level course)
  • Faculty Mentor (2019)
    School of Medicine,
    SABES course (Spanish for medical students)
  • Small Group Facilitator (2018)
    School of Medicine,
    Molecules to Medicine
  • Small group Facilitator (2020)
    School of Medicine,
    Molecules to Medicine
  • Lecturer (2022)
    School of Medicine,
    Organoids Course (CSDV767- Fall Semester, Graduate level)


  • Vielle, A., Mathiyakom, N., Li, H., Howell, A.C., Vergara, M.N.* (2023). Quantitative Assessment of Fluorescent Reporter Expression in 3D Retinal Organoids. In: Gopalakrishnan, J. (eds) Brain Organoid Research. Neuromethods, vol 189. Humana, New York, NY.
  • Onyak JR, Vergara MN, Renna JM. Retinal organoid light responsivity: current status and future opportunities. Transl Res. 2022 Dec;250:98-111. PubMed PMID: 35690342
  • Vielle A, Park YK, Secora C, Vergara MN. Organoids for the Study of Retinal Development and Developmental Abnormalities. Front Cell Neurosci. 2021;15:667880. PubMed PMID: 34025363
  • Secora, C., Vielle, A., Wang, A.C.-J., Lenhart, P., Salcedo, E., Johnson, N.R., Ahmed, M.M., Chial, H.J., Boyd, T.D., Potter, H., and Vergara, M.N. (2021). Traumatic Brain Injury Exacerbates Alzheimer's Disease Pathology in the Retinas of TgF344-AD Rats. bioRxiv, 2021.2009.2023.461334. doi:
  • Aasen DM, Vergara MN. New Drug Discovery Paradigms for Retinal Diseases: A Focus on Retinal Organoids. J Ocul Pharmacol Ther. 2020 Jan Feb;36(1):18-24. PubMed PMID: 31059378
  • Mainland JD, Barlow LA, Munger SD, Millar SE, Vergara MN, Jiang P, Schwob JE, Goldstein BJ, Boye SE, Martens JR, Leopold DA, Bartoshuk LM, Doty RL, Hummel T, Pinto JM, Trimmer C, Kelly C, Pribitkin EA, Reed DR. Identifying Treatments for Taste and Smell Disorders: Gaps and Opportunities. Chem Senses. 2020 Oct 9;45(7):493-502. PubMed PMID: 32556127
  • Vergara MN, Tsissios G, Del Rio-Tsonis K. Lens regeneration: a historical perspective. Int J Dev Biol. 2018;62(6-7-8):351-361. PubMed PMID: 29877565
  • Vergara MN, Flores-Bellver M, Aparicio-Domingo S, McNally M, Wahlin KJ, Saxena MT, Mumm JS, Canto-Soler MV. Three-dimensional automated reporter quantification (3D-ARQ) technology enables quantitative screening in retinal organoids. Development. 2017 Oct 15;144(20):3698-3705. PubMed PMID: 28870990
  • Canto-Soler V, Flores-Bellver M, Vergara MN. Stem Cell Sources and Their Potential for the Treatment of Retinal Degenerations. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2016 Apr 1;57(5):ORSFd1-9. PubMed PMID: 27116661
  • Vergara MN, Gutierrez C, Canto-Soler MV. Efficient Gene Transfer in Chick Retinas for Primary Cell Culture Studies: An Ex-ovo Electroporation Approach. J Vis Exp. 2015 Nov 2;(105):e52002. PubMed PMID: 26556302
  • Zhong X, Gutierrez C, Xue T, Hampton C, Vergara MN, Cao LH, Peters A, Park TS, Zambidis ET, Meyer JS, Gamm DM, Yau KW, Canto-Soler MV. Generation of three-dimensional retinal tissue with functional photoreceptors from human iPSCs. Nat Commun. 2014 Jun 10;5:4047. PubMed PMID: 24915161
  • Vergara MN, Gutierrez C, O'Brien DR, Canto-Soler MV. Ex vivo electroporation of retinal cells: a novel, high efficiency method for functional studies in primary retinal cultures. Exp Eye Res. 2013 Apr;109:40-50. PubMed PMID: 23370269
  • Yoshikawa T, Mizuno A, Yasumuro H, Inami W, Vergara MN, Del Rio-Tsonis K, Chiba C. MEK-ERK and heparin-susceptible signaling pathways are involved in cell-cycle entry of the wound edge retinal pigment epithelium cells in the adult newt. Pigment Cell Melanoma Res. 2012 Jan;25(1):66-82. PubMed PMID: 22026648
  • Vergara MN, de la Rosa EJ, Canto-Soler MV. Focus on molecules: proinsulin in the eye: precursor or pioneer?. Exp Eye Res. 2012 Aug;101:109-10. PubMed PMID: 21144848
  • Vergara MN, Canto-Soler MV. Rediscovering the chick embryo as a model to study retinal development. Neural Dev. 2012 Jun 27;7:22. PubMed PMID: 22738172
  • Vergara MN, Smiley LK, Del Rio-Tsonis K, Tsonis PA. The alpha1 isoform of the Na+/K+ ATPase is up-regulated in dedifferentiated progenitor cells that mediate lens and retina regeneration in adult newts. Exp Eye Res. 2009 Feb;88(2):314-22. PubMed PMID: 18755185
  • Vergara MN, Del Rio-Tsonis K. Retinal regeneration in the Xenopus laevis tadpole: a new model system. Mol Vis. 2009 May 18;15:1000-13. PubMed PMID: 19461929
  • Casco VH, Izaguirre MF, Marín L, Vergara MN, Lajmanovich RC, Peltzer P, Soler AP. Apoptotic cell death in the central nervous system of Bufo arenarum tadpoles induced by cypermethrin. Cell Biol Toxicol. 2006 May;22(3):199-211. PubMed PMID: 16570123
  • Izaguirre MF, Vergara MN, Casco VH. CAS role in the brain apoptosis of Bufo arenarum induced by cypermethrin. Biocell. 2006 Aug;30(2):309-20. PubMed PMID: 16972556
  • Vergara MN, Arsenijevic Y, Del Rio-Tsonis K. CNS regeneration: a morphogen's tale. J Neurobiol. 2005 Sep 15;64(4):491-507. PubMed PMID: 16041757
  • Grogg MW, Call MK, Okamoto M, Vergara MN, Del Rio-Tsonis K, Tsonis PA. BMP inhibition-driven regulation of six-3 underlies induction of newt lens regeneration. Nature. 2005 Dec 8;438(7069):858-62. PubMed PMID: 16341014
  • Tsonis PA, Vergara MN, Spence JR, Madhavan M, Kramer EL, Call MK, Santiago WG, Vallance JE, Robbins DJ, Del Rio-Tsonis K. A novel role of the hedgehog pathway in lens regeneration. Dev Biol. 2004 Mar 15;267(2):450-61. PubMed PMID: 15013805
View All (22 Total) View Less

Professional Memberships

  • Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, Member
  • Society for Developmental Biology, Member
  • Latin American Society for Developmental Biology, Member
  • International Society for Eye Research, Member
  • International Society to Advance Alzheimer's Research and Treatment, Member
Personal Interests
Science education, outreach, community service

Public Speaking

General Information

Graduate Schools:
  • PhD, Miami University (2008)
  • Other, Johns Hopkins University (2015)
Download CV
Languages: English, Spanish
Department: Ophthalmology
Contact Us
CU Anschutz
Fitzsimons Building

13001 East 17th Place
Campus Box C290
Aurora, CO 80045

Update My Profile