Lab Members

Soto Sonnenschein laboratory
the lab and friends


Principal Investigators

Ana SotoAna Soto, MD

Dr. Soto’s research interests span the following areas: a) control of cell proliferation, b) fetal origins of adult disease, particularly the role of endocrine disruptors on carcinogenesis and obesity, c) role of stroma/epithelial interactions on organogenesis and carcinogenesis and d) role of biomechanics on morphogenesis. The latter is being developed together with Professor Helen Byrne (U. Oxford, UK), Dr. Kurt Saetzler (U. Ulster, UK) and Professor Carlos Sonnenschein using a Systems Biology/mathematical modeling approach.  Together with Professor Sonnenschein, she co-authored a book entitled “The Society of Cells” (Taylor and Francis, 1999) in which they posited that the default state of cells in all organisms is proliferation and motility, and proposed the Tissue Organization Field Theory of Carcinogenesis, in which cancer is viewed as development gone awry.  Dr. Soto also works on epistemological issues arising from the study of complex biological phenomena and on theoretical biology. As the incumbent Blaise Pascal Chair of Biology 2013  together with Prof.  Longo (Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris, France), Prof.  Miquel (U. Toulouse, France), Dr. Mossio (IHPST), Dr. Montevil (IPHST), Dr. Pochville (U. Pittsburg), Dr. Perret (ENS)  and Prof. Sonnenschein she is working on a theory of organisms and on observables of biological organization. Together with Profs. Miquel and Sonnenschein, she is working on biological causality, emergence and entanglement of organization levels.

Tufts Website Profile

Blaise Pascal Chair Website


Carlos SonnenscheinCarlos Sonnenschein, MD

In addition to his long tenure as a Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, Dr. Carlos Sonnenschein is Corresponding member at the Centre Cavaillès, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Ulster, UK. For over four decades, Dr. Sonnenschein’s research interests have centered on a) the control of cell proliferation by estrogens and androgens, b) the impact of endocrine disruptors on organogenesis and the reproductive function and c) carcinogenesis during early development and adult life and, specifically, on the role of stroma/epithelial interactions on rat and human mammary carcinogenesis.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Dr. Sonnenschein established and characterized the first estrogen-target cell lines that later on significantly impacted current understanding of the estrogenic control of these target cells and that of cells from multicellular organisms, at large. In the late 1980’s, Ana M. Soto and Sonnenschein identified estrogenic substances in plastics and developed two in vitro bioassays capable of reliably identify xenoestrogens and androgens agonists and antagonists (E-SCREEN and A-SCREEN, respectively) that are used worldwide to detect the presence of natural and man-made estrogenic and anti-androgenic compounds. Both researchers have served in national and international advisory panels that deal with diverse aspects of environmental sciences. Together with Patricia Hunt (Washington State University), Drs Sonnenschein and Soto shared the 2012 Jacoh Heskel Gabbay Price awarded by Brandeis University in recognition of their contributions in Medicine and Biotechnology.

In 1999, Drs Sonnenschein and Soto co-authored a book entitled THE SOCIETY OF CELLS (Bios-Springer-Verlag) in which they critically evaluated the status of research in the fields of control of cell proliferation and carcinogenesis. The major conclusions reached by their analysis in the book were that a) the default state of all cells in both unicellular and multicellular organisms is proliferation, and that b) sporadic cancers (over 95% of clinical cases) are anchored at the tissue level of biological organization. These are the core premises of their theory of carcinogenesis and metastases, i.e., the tissue organization field theory (TOFT). Based on evidence they and others have collected, the TOFT is increasingly accepted by the cancer research and secular communities as reflected in scholarly and lay publications.

During the last 10 years, the Sonnenschein/Soto laboratory has developed the only 3D model of the human breast that responds to the three mammotropic hormones. In addition, they also developed experimental models to study the biophysical determinants of morphogenesis. Undoubtedly, Dr. Sonnenschein is having fun posing candid questions and finding answers to them. He maintains an active traveling schedule to national and international destinations to give seminars and lectures at colleges, universities and research institutes in the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Tufts Website Profile

Current Members

silhouetteCheryl Michaelson, Lab Manager

The Great Overseer.










Lucia SperoniLucia Speroni, PhD, Post-doctoral fellow


During my PhD research at the National University of Quilmes in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I studied the role of tissue environment in tumor malignancy. While I was working on my PhD thesis, I noticed that the same tumor cell line would originate different tumors depending on the tissue context. That is, a cell behaves the way it does because of its context. The complexity of tumor development has kept me intrigued ever since. Another aspect that caught my attention during my PhD research was the limitations of the majority of the models used to study carcinogenesis. I set out to investigate this issue and proposed an alternative to the standard subcutaneous disease model. This new model better mimicked the human pathology in three relevant aspects: tumor phenotype, survival rate and the fact that the host presented with metastasis.

I came to the Soto and Sonnenschein laboratory looking for a place where questioning the status quo of cancer theories was welcomed. Here I could pursue the study of carcinogenesis in accordance to what I had observed during my PhD work. Cancer is a matter of tissue organization. My interest in physiologically-relevant models for the study of carcinogenesis motivated me to develop the first hormone-responsive 3D culture model of the human breast tissue that uses an established human breast epithelial cell line. In this model, the main mammotrophic hormones induce breast epithelial cells to form structures similar to those observed in vivo, and it therefore provides a physiologically relevant context for the study of the effects of natural hormones and compounds such as anti-estrogens, which are relevant for the treatment of breast cancer. Additionally, the model enables for the first time, the study of the link between mechanical forces and hormone action on breast morphogenesis in vitro.

A main line of research in the laboratory is the relationship between perinatal exposure to environmental chemicals and breast cancer development. Thousands of new chemicals are synthesized each year worldwide and are indiscriminately introduced in our midst. Of those, more than 80,000 chemicals are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). They are present in plastics, detergents and other household and consumer products. Identification of those chemicals that are breast carcinogens is a necessary step in order to develop a public health policy aimed at decreasing exposures to protect women and men from developing breast cancer. In my current project I am developing an ex vivo culture model of the fetal mammary gland were the action of hormonally-active chemicals could be tested and therefore potential breast carcinogens could be identified.


Nicole AcevedoNicole Acevedo, PhD, Post-doctoral fellow

I received my doctorate in Molecular and Integrative Physiology from the University of Michigan School Of Medicine and worked as a clinical embryologist prior to returning to academic research at Tufts University School of Medicine. As a postdoc in the Soto-Sonnenschein lab, I investigate how perinatal exposure to human-relevant internal doses of the xenoestrogen bisphenol A (BPA) is associated with the induction of mammary gland lesions and malignant tumors. I am currently assessing mammary gland endpoints for the Consortium Linking Academic and Regulatory Insights on the Toxicity of BPA (CLARITY-BPA) program, a cooperative agreement between the NIEHS-supported grantees, NTP, and FDA staff at the National Center for Toxicological Research. This collaboration seeks to integrate the strengths of academic and regulatory research approaches to identify best practices for hazard assessment of environmental chemical contaminants for informing chemical risk assessment. During my tenure here at Tufts, I was also fortunate enough to expand my experiential knowledge in science policy and communication as a policy fellow for the Reach the Decision Makers Fellowship Program (UCSF-PRHE). I collaborated with a multidisciplinary group of scientists, clinicians, and community health advocates to examine the current state of the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and to provide our recommendations directly to the Agency. This experience reinforced my conviction that there is a definite need for bridging the knowledge gap between academic scientists and both the regulatory agencies responsible for making and implementing policy, as well as the communities at large that are directly affected by these policies. Aside from trying to save the planet, I spend most of my ‘downtime’ exploring the world, doing yoga or mildly obsessing over goats.


Genya UrimotoGenya Urimoto, MD, Research Associate

I came to this lab from Japan in June 2014. Originally an anaesthesiologist by profession, I am currently studying the Tissue Organization Field Theory of carcinogenesis as proposed by Drs. Soto and Sonnenschein. At the same time, I am also studying the effects of BPA on uterus in mice, especially the impact of prenatal exposure to this chemical. I am currently getting adjusted to my life here in the US and improving my English language skills by watching TED videos and listening to Sting, my favorite musician. The most embarrassing thing so far is that sometimes, jokes have to be explained to me after people have finished laughing at them.


Zhe WangZhe Wang, PhD, Post-doctoral fellow

I received my B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biology from Henan Normal University, China. After completing my PhD at Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, I continuously worked as a postdoc at the same institute in Beijing, China. In 2013, I was awarded a scholarship from the China Postdoctoral Council for my research at Tufts University School of Medicine for two years. My research interests encompass nanotoxicity, environmental endocrine disruptors, and mammary gland development, specifically investigating the effects of fiber organization on epithelial tubulogenesis and understanding the interactions between stroma and epithelium in 3D cultures.



Michael SweeneyMichael Sweeney, Graduate Student

I started my career in biological research studying cardiac development in zebrafish. Using transgenic animals expressing cardiac-specific fluorescence we were able to watch, in real time, as cells “became” heart cells, beating before their incorporation into a functioning heart organ. From these observations, I was first made aware of the emergent properties of tissues. Following my developmental work, I moved into cancer research, despite my initial hesitations about entering what I considered to be a crowded field. Our focus was on the role of mutations in the re-working of signal transduction pathways in vitro with the expectation that better understanding would lead to pharmaceutical targets. However, time and time again, these targets were virtually irrelevant in intact animals, never mind in clinical settings. Ignoring these set backs, I felt as hopeful as my co-workers that the end of cancer was coming soon. I started graduate school specifically to continue cancer research and address some of the confusion I had about the field, assuming that the tumor and it’s genetics contained all the answers. After hearing about the theories of Drs. Soto and Sonnenschein I began to appreciate cancer as a disease of the tissue, more complex than I could have imagined previously. I now study how some strains of rats are resistant to mammary carcinogenesis, approaching it from a tissue-wide perspective, with special attention on how epithelial populations act as a read out of stromal-mediated carcinogenesis. When not in lab I enjoy being outdoors, cooking, hydroponic gardening, and working on my car.

 Tufts Website Profile


Nafis HasanNafis Hasan, Graduate Student

Growing up, I played “science” with my older brother with bunch of test tubes, beakers and flasks and a broken microscope. My scientist career was restricted to an academic setting as I grew up. The idea of genetic engineering titillated me since it made believe the sci-fi novels I voraciously read. I moved to the US from Bangladesh in 2007 to attend Lafayette College, from where I graduated in 2011 with a BS in Biology. In college and after, it was actually cancer that won my heart with its all-engulfing nature and multifarious, almost mysterious, origin. The tumor microenvironment, a microcosm of biological complexity with its varied display of genetic mutations, cytokines, chemokines, growth factors, multiple cell types, all working in a chaotic pattern to maintain and promote cancerous growth, fascinated me in my post-grad tenure as a research technician in a breast cancer metastasis lab. However, my questions about cancer’s origins mainly went unanswered as the standard idea of mutations causing cancer did not fill in the gaps. I entered graduate school in the hopes that I would be able to explore this question in greater detail. Life presents opportunities in unexpected manners – it was over a beer at a casual event that I became acquainted with Drs. Soto and Sonnenschein’s novel theory on carcinogenesis. I was hooked and after further reading, I am able to understand why the orthodox approach to studying cancer has yielded such poor long-term results. In the Soto/Sonnenschein laboratory, I have been further educated in the intriguing nature of the mammary gland, a tissue that resembles the cyclical patterns observed in Nature itself; my tenure in this lab has also taught me the “dying” art of philosophy of science and the ability of critical thinking. My current project involves studying the effects of vitamin D in mammary gland development using the lab’s novel hormone-sensitive 3D model. Besides all things science, my other passions include biking, camping, cooking, reading, writing, travelling, trying new things and part-time activism. I believe that Curiosity never killed the cat; the cat just couldn’t handle the truth.

 Tufts Website Profile


skylar klager Skylar Klager, Research Technician

I studied Biology and Evolutionary Anthropology while an undergraduate at Duke University. Following graduation in 2013, I joined the Soto/Sonnenschein team as a research technician. During my time in the lab, my interests in modern chemical exposures, including BPA, PBDEs, pthalates and other endocrine disruptors, have not only deepened, but have been cultivated by the scholarly and collaborative character of the group. Carlos once said that perhaps the best solution to breast cancer is not in treatment, but in prevention. This statement made me realize the importance of environmental factors in public health. In the fall of 2015, I will begin a master’s program in Environmental Epidemiology and Risk Assessment at Harvard School of Public Health.




Mael MontevilMaël Montévil, PhD, Post-doctoral fellow/Collaborator

The core of my work is in theoretical biology. I’m identifying differences in the principles and methodologies used to understand physical phenomena and the ones that biology requires and that I aim to contribute specifying. I obtained my Phd under the supervision of Giuseppe Longo in LIENS, École Normale Supérieure and doctoral school Frontières du vivant, in Paris V, Descartes. This work was centered on the differences between physics and biology and proposed several original concepts for biology. Then, I became a postdoctoral associate in Tufts University, dept. of Anatomy and cell biology, Soto and Sonnenschein Lab, where I contributed both at the level of morphometric methods and on theoretical ideas. I have been a postdoctoral fellow at IHPST, Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, on a grant from DIM-ISC of the île-de-France region where I worked with Matteo Mossio on the concept of biological organization and its circularity. I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at MSC, Paris Diderot, funded by the Labex “Who AM I?” where I work with Stéphane Douady on biological variability.

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