Research

The purpose of our research is to explore the role of sex steroids on a) the control of cell proliferation, b) mammary gland morphogenesis and c) carcinogenesis and neoplasia. Over the years, research in this lab has sprouted in many different directions, which can be classified in the broad categories as following –

 

I. A New Theory of Carcinogenesis

The Soto/Sonnenschein laboratory proposes an alternative to the widely heralded Somatic Mutation Theory (SMT), which is often treated as a fact, as an explanation to carcinogenesis. SMT proposes that cancers arise due to mutations in the genome, especially in the epithelium of a tissue. The alternative that we propose, the Tissue Organization Field Theory (TOFT), argues that cancers arise due to a disruption in communication between the epithelium and the surrounding stroma of a tissue.

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II. From self-organization to morphogenesis

Development is a fascinating process by which an organism arises from a single cell. Our lab is interested in this process, especially that of the mammary gland, since this organ is one of the few that undergo extensive remodeling at different stages of growth. Our lab has worked extensively to develop a 3D culture model that would recapitulate in vitro the morphogenetic processes occurring in vivo and be able to quantify these processes.

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III. Control of Cell Proliferation

The age-old questions of why and how cells grow are of primary interest in this lab, especially in the light of cancer, which is labeled as a disease with unchecked growth. It is an interesting phenomenon that cells will stop growing after a certain stage in metazoans, but will carry on growing in bacteria and other protozoans. It is our opinion that misunderstanding the control of cell proliferation has led to misleading findings in the field of cancer, where the mainstream idea is that cells are quiescent in nature, an idea that is antagonistic to basic premises of evolution. Therefore, the control of cell proliferation must be better understood for both developmental and disease processes.

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IV. Endocrine Disruptors and Fetal Origins of Adult Disease

This area of research was introduced accidentally in this lab, when Drs. Sonnenschein and Soto discovered that a batch of routinely used plasticware was causing growth in estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells back in late 80s/early 90s. Since then, work in the lab has gone on to explore how deep the rabbit hole goes and has developed a bioassay to measure estrogenic activity, discovered estrogenic activity of phenols and carcinogenic properties of Bisphenol A. Drs. Soto and Sonnenschein are pioneers in this field of research and have also been involved in the formation of the Endocrine Disruption exchange, a body of scientists that have advised on forming legislature to regulate such chemicals.

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V. Theoretical Biology and Philosophy of Biology

Biologists acknowledge a crisis in their midst. Technological improvements have generated an avalanche of data but biologists neither have the theoretical bases nor an adequate language to make sense of them, particularly when trying to explain the generation of shapes. My project aims at defining new biological observables and an appropriate language to describe them; our analysis has already revealed conceptual differences between “complexity” and “organization” that we intend to quantify. These goals will be pursued ¬†through exchanges among theoreticians and experimental biologists; this interaction would mutually enrich their disciplines while creating the means to overcome the impasse.

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