Lab Chat With Dr. Maria Soledad Sosa

Lab Chat With Dr. Maria Soledad Sosa

Maria Soledad Sosa, Ph.D., studies cancer-cell dormancy, in which cancer cells hibernate—sometimes for long periods of time—and then reactivate to form deadly metastases. A native of Argentina, Dr. Sosa earned her Ph.D. in molecular biology in a joint program at the University of Buenos Aires and the University of Pennsylvania. She joined the Einstein faculty in December 2022, where she is now an assistant professor of microbiology & immunology and of oncology.
Maria Soledad Sosa, Ph.D.

How did you get interested in science?

My dad was a radiologist, and I wanted to follow in his steps. But that would mean leaving my hometown, San Luis, which I wasn’t ready to do after high school. Around then the local university started a program in molecular biology and I realized I could still help people by researching the causes of disease.

Why did you eventually focus on cancer?

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 16. She’s still alive after 25 years, despite a recurrence several years ago. And my dad died of colon cancer in 2010. I really want to understand this disease. It’s personal.

Why did you come to the United States?

I wanted to explore science abroad to have another perspective. In the end, I decided to stay and pursue my professional career here.

Tell us about your research.

Even if patients are successfully treated for a primary tumor, they often carry residual cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body. There they can stay dormant for years, even decades, before reactivating to cause incurable metastases. We’re investigating the molecular mechanisms that control dormancy. If we can develop strategies that can keep dormant cells in their dormant state or that can target and eradicate dormant cells, we may be able to prevent cancer metastases, which are responsible for the vast majority of cancer deaths.

Julio Aguirre-Ghiso, who leads Einstein’s Institute for Cancer Dormancy and the Tumor Microenvironment, also comes from Argentina. Did you know him before coming to Einstein?

I worked with him at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. We fell in love, got married, had a daughter, and formed a beautiful family with his two sons. So the answer is yes!

Do you get back home often?

We try to return once a year so the kids can have a strong connection with their relatives. I don’t want them to miss out on that.

Any advice for young researchers?

Persistence is the most important quality. It took me four tries to get my NIH [National Institutes of Health] grant approved. Eventually I realized that my research idea was sound, but I wasn’t getting my message across to the grant reviewers. So: keep trying, and learn how to communicate.

What do you like most about your career?

That you can ask and answer complex scientific questions. Of course, most of the time you don’t get answers, and then you have to ask new questions. That process keeps me motivated. But it doesn’t come without stress. Which reminds me of another piece of advice for young researchers: when life gets stressful, reach out to your peers, to a mentor, to a therapist, or to any support programs your institution may offer. Finding a balance in life is what keeps you alive in this journey.

What do you like to do outside the lab?

We love getting out into nature, hiking, and kayaking. And being Argentinians, we love dancing the tango. I also like to paint and draw.

More From Einstein

Class of 2024 Celebrates Match Day
Einstein Community Enjoys Pi Day
Graduate Students Win Marmur Award
Empowering Einstein Women in Science
Einstein Secures $192M in NIH Grants
Training the Next Cancer Researchers
Bringing a Novel Drug to Market
A Promise to Rwandan Genocide Survivors