Tobacco Carcinogens and DNA Damage
Research Area: Cancer Prevention
Stephen S. Hecht, Ph.D., an internationally recognized expert on cancer-causing agents in tobacco, has spent more than four decades studying how tobacco compounds enter the human body, get metabolized and damage DNA to cause lung cancer. His groundbreaking work in tobacco-specific carcinogens, known as nitrosamines (found in both cigarette smoke and smoke-less tobacco) helped provide a strong scientific basis for public policies restricting smoking, including clean indoor air laws, widely viewed as essential to tobacco control.
Dr. Hecht, the Wallin Professor of Cancer Prevention in the University of Minnesota Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, first demonstrated nitrosamine’s role in unburned tobacco in 1974 with his colleague, Dietrich Hoffman, Ph.D., a renowned cancer epidemiologist. Since then, he has worked towards further defining the impact on human health of many of the other 60 to 70 carcinogens found in cigarette smoke, and identifying which smokers face the greatest risk of developing lung cancer. The ability to identify susceptible smokers could lead to early interventional strategies that reduce the incidence and mortality from lung cancer.
A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science since 2014, Dr. Hecht has received many honors. In 2006, he received the Excellence in Cancer Prevention Research award from the American Association for Cancer Research for his work on tobacco compounds and the pathways by which they cause cancer. He has received both a Merit Award and an Outstanding Investigator Grant from the National Cancer Institute. In 2012, he served as editor-in-chief of the American Chemical Society journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.
To learn more about Dr. Hecht, read his University of Minnesota Medical School profile.