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Focus on Dr. Anna La Torre's Laboratory at UC Davis

"I became a scientist because I'm a very curious person, and I always wanted to know how things work, how cells work."

Anna La Torre, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy at the School of Medicine, University of California, Davis.

Dr. La Torre's laboratory focuses on generating retinal ganglion cells from stem cells to enhance axonal growth and cell survival and ultimately, to use these cells as donor cells for cell replacement therapies.

Dr. La Torre is a principal investigator in the Catalyst for a Cure (CFC) Vision Restoration Initiative, along with her colleagues Xin Duan, PhD (University of California, San Francisco); Yang Hu, MD, PhD (Stanford University); and Derek Welsbie, MD, PhD (University of California, San Diego).

“The goal of the Catalyst for a Cure team is to bring together our expertise to try to find ways to restore vision in patients that have lost vision from glaucoma,” said Dr. La Torre. “Restoring vision is a really challenging goal. We are trying to find ways to protect the nerve cells that are still there and trying to rewire the axons of the retinal ganglion cells.” This approach called neuroprotection is a therapeutic strategy to prevent the neurons affected by glaucoma from dying.

In collaboration with the other CFC researchers, Dr. La Torre’s laboratory is also working to develop and test technologies to transplant retinal ganglion cells for cell replacement therapies. Although much research is still needed before this approach can be translated from the laboratory to the clinic, “the final goal is to be able to collect the cells that we make in the lab, transplant them in the eye of a patient, and find ways to correctly rewire the lost connections to the brain,” Dr. La Torre said.

Anna La Torre grew up in Campdevanol, a small village close to the Pyrenees in Catalonia (in Spain). She enrolled in the University of Barcelona to study biology, and began her scientific career driven by curiosity. Specifically, how organisms build themselves from a single cell.

“I became a scientist because I'm a very curious person, and I always wanted to know how things work, how cells work,” Anna told us. “But also, during my postdoc, I decided I really wanted to make a difference for human health and to do research that's meaningful and will improve people’s lives.”

Anna La Torre, PhD on Restoring Vision in Glaucoma

Last reviewed on August 20, 2021

This article appeared in the January 2021 issue of Gleams.

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