Susana da Silva, PhD

  • Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Developmental Biology
  • University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

A Conversation With Dr. da Silva


Susana got her Bachelor's Degree in Biochemistry from the University of Coimbra, Portugal. She then obtained a PhD Fellowship from the Portuguese Government through the University of Coimbra, and moved to Duke University, USA, to study the development of the nervous system. During her PhD, she focused on neural morphogenesis of sensory neurons and the development of neural circuits representing the touch-sensory system of mice.

After her PhD, Susana decided to concentrate on the neural visual system, the retina. She then joined the laboratory of Dr. Connie Cepko at Harvard Medical School to study retina development, in particular the formation of a small, highly specialized area of the retina known as the fovea. The fovea is responsible for our central, colored, and sharp vision, and most of our daily tasks, like reading, driving, and recognizing faces, depend on this area. During her time at Harvard, she revealed the first-ever described molecular mechanism involved in early fovea development, which is conserved between chick and humans.

She then joined the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh in 2019, where she is now a group leader. In her lab, she will continue to advance our understanding of the basic mechanisms underlying fovea development and establish new experimental model systems with broad applicability and therapeutic potential for human diseases affecting the fovea.

Education & Training

  • 2012 - 2019 Postdoctoral Fellow, Laboratory of Dr. Connie Cepko, Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School
  • 2005 - 2011 PhD, University of Coimbra, Portugal and Duke University USA
  • 1997 - 2002 B.S. in Biochemistry, University of Coimbra, Portugal

Representative Publications

Susana da Silva and Connie Cepko (2017). Fgf8 expression and degradation of Retinoic Acid are required for patterning a High-Acuity Area in the retina. Developmental Cell 42(1):68-81. Cover and Previewed Article by Tufford A. and Cayouette M (2017) Dev.Cell 42(1):3-5.

Susana da Silva, Hiroshi Hasegawa, Alexandra Scott, Xiang Zhou, Amanda K. Wagner, Bao-Xia Han, and Fan Wang (2011). Proper formation of whisker barrelettes requires periphery-derived Smad4-dependent TGFβ signaling. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(8):3395-400.

Susana da Silva and Fan Wang (2011). Retrograde neural circuits specification by target-derived neurotrophins and growth factors. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 21(1):61-7.

Pavel Rodriguez, Susana da Silva, Leif Oxburgh, Fan Wang, Brigid L. M. Hogan and Jianwen Que. (2010). BMP signaling in the development of the mouse esophagus and forestomach. Development 137(24):4171-6.

Zhou, Xiang*; Babu, J.Ramesh*; da Silva, Susana*; Shu, Qing; Graef, Isabella A.; Oliver, Tim; Tomoda, Toshifumi; Tani, Tomomi; Wooten, Marie W.; and Fan Wang (2007). Unc-51-like kinase 1/2-mediated endocytic processes regulate filopodia extension and branching of sensory axons. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(14):5842-5847.* equally contributing authors

Research Interest Summary

Molecular Mechanisms of Fovea Development

Research Interests

The research in Dr. da Silva’s laboratory is centered on a small highly specialized area of the retina named the fovea. The fovea is our high acuity area and is responsible for our ability to perform tasks such as reading, driving and recognizing faces. This area is very distinct from the rest of the retina presenting unique and specialized cellular and functional properties. Trained as a neurodevelopmental biologist Dr. da Silva is very interested in deciphering the molecular developmental mechanisms orchestrating the formation of such specialization in the retina. To achieve this Dr. da Silva’s laboratory uses a multidisciplinary research program based in multiple model organisms, combining state-of-the-art genomic, molecular, and tissue culture techniques. The overarching goal of Dr. da Silva’s research is to advance the current understanding of basic genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying fovea development and subsequently establish new experimental models of human foveal diseases with wide applicability and therapeutic potential. Some of the specific goals of Dr. da Silva’s lab are:

  • Elucidate genes and signaling pathways patterning the early high acuity area using chick retina as an attainable model system
  • Comparative multispecies studies by gene expression analysis of the foveal-genes and molecular pathways (evo-devo approach)
  • Establish a new in vitro model system of human induced-pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs)-derived 3D foveated retinal organoids
  • Modeling of foveal diseases conditions in 3D foveated retinal organoids.

Research Grants

2020 Knights Templar Eye Foundation on Pediatric Ophthalmology
2019 ARVO Foundation/Genentech Age-related Macular Research Fellowship