Natalia Vergara, PhD
Assistant Professor, Ophthalmology

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

Professional Titles

  • Assistant Professor, Ophthalmology
  • Assistant Professor

Recognition & Awards

  • 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)
  • The Ruben Adler Research Award, The Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (2012)

Research Interests

My research using a combination of traditional animal models and state-of-the-art human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived retinal organoids is focused on two key areas: I). Understanding the mechanisms of early eye formation and the dynamics of retinal ganglion cell development in a human context. II). Exploring the retinal manifestations of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly those associated with aging. In this context, development and aging are viewed as the two sides of the life cycle of the retinal tissue. This program thus seeks to further our understanding of these fundamental biological processes, as well as to develop biological markers and therapeutic approaches to neural retinal degenerative disease.


  • Course Co-Director (2020)
    School of Medicine, Ophthalmology
    Biology of the eye
  • 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 (2019)
    School of Medicine,
    Molecules to Medicine


  • 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
  • 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
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Professional Memberships

  • The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, Member
  • Society for Developmental Biology, Member
  • Latin American Society for Developmental Biology, Member
Personal Interests
Science education, outreach, community service

Public Speaking

General Information

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