Valeria Canto-Soler, PhD, has an innovative vision for saving and restoring sight in patients with blinding diseases. An associate professor in the CU School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology, Canto-Soler is the director of CellSight, an innovative ocular stem cell and regeneration research program.
Canto-Soler and her team at the Human 3D Retina Modeling Lab have innovated the use of stem cells to successfully grow light-sensing human retinas in petri dishes. At CellSight, Canto-Soler collaborates with a cross-disciplinary team of investigators where they are using this breakthrough technology to develop novel stem cell-based therapeutics to save and restore sight in patients with blinding diseases.
We visited Canto-Soler in the CellSight lab to learn more about what motivates her, and why she set her sights on curing blindness.
What led you to focus on your area of expertise?
As I pursued my PhD studies in Argentina, it became clearer and clearer to me the impact that a blinding disease has on the life of patients and their families. The desire to find ways to help these patients regain their vision started to grow in me and became ever stronger over the years as we made progress on our research efforts. At CellSight we are, in a way, attempting to turn the “impossible” into reality: give people back their sight. Our dream of curing blindness is ambitious and challenging, but just the thought of how we can change the lives of so many people drives all of us at CellSight to give our best every day toward this goal. I dream of the day when we may see all our efforts crystalized into our very first medical treatment to restore vision in blind patients!
How does being part of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus ecosystem help you further your work and your professional goals?
When I visited the CU Anschutz Medical Campus for the first time, I was struck by the vision and commitment of the campus leadership, as well as the vibrant and collegial environment among faculty. I would even venture to say that I felt I could almost physically touch these qualities. Before the opportunity to join CU came my way, I had been envisioning a research program focused on developing stem cell-based technologies for treating blindness, but I could not see how it could become a reality. At the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center, I found a leadership team that shares my vision and has the drive and commitment that is necessary to bring it to life. I see this in action every day, as our world-class clinicians and surgeons work alongside our stem cell researchers to perfect retinal transplants and procedures. As importantly, I also found a unique commitment from private and philanthropic foundations that I have not encountered anywhere else. All this gives you that special strength that comes from knowing you are not alone in the fight, and the conviction that, together, we can make it happen.
When I’m not at work, I enjoy…
When I’m not at work, I like to spend time with family and friends outdoors in our beautiful Rocky Mountains. I enjoy biking, hiking and skiing, especially when surrounded by such spectacular scenery. Contemplating the beauty and perfection of nature has a very strong transcendental and inspiring effect on me. Seeing nature “at work” makes me think of miracles. It makes me feel that what may seem impossible today may be possible tomorrow… that our dream of curing blindness may one day be a reality.