Stephen Hecht

Wallin Land Grant Professor of Cancer Prevention


Dr. Hecht's laboratory is focused on understanding the ways tobacco smoke constituents cause cancer. To do this he and his colleagues study the mechanisms by which these compounds enter the human body, are metabolized, and ultimately bind to DNA, causing mutations that result in cancer. Cigarette smoke contains more than 70 carcinogens. Hecht focuses on several including tobacco-specific nitrosamines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and certain volatiles such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein that are formed during the combustion process.Hecht's research team has developed methods to analyze human urine for these compounds and their metabolites. These methods, which employ mass spectrometry as a key analytic technology, enable his laboratory to take part in studies of thousands of smokers. Hecht's group also uses mass spectrometry methods to analyze the DNA damage caused by the carcinogens at the level of stereochemistry, which shows the relative spatial arrangement of atoms and molecules.The goal of Hecht's research is two-fold: First, to provide evidence in support of ongoing regulation of tobacco products due to their harm to human health, and second, to find ways to identify the susceptible smoker. That smoking causes lung cancer is well established, but it is not yet possible to identify which smokers are most likely to contract lung cancer, which would allow for early intervention. Collaboration between research groups in the fields of genetics, biochemistry, psychology and other fields will be needed to turn promising leads of an individual smoker's susceptibility to lung cancer into a preventive strategy.Hecht has a long-standing collaboration with a University colleague in psychiatry who is studying the mechanisms of addiction. Given that more than a billion people of the world's population of seven billion people are smokers, including an estimated 45 million in the U.S. and 300 million in China, the impact of learning the biological and psychological mechanisms involved in tobacco smoke addiction is a major public health challenge and opportunity. Understanding these mechanisms also can lead to the identification of smoking prevention strategies and potential chemopreventive agents.

Research Summary


PubMed Bibliography

Huang BZ, Binder AM, Quon B, Patel YM, Lum-Jones A, Tiirikainen M, Murphy SE, Loo L, Maunakea AK, Haiman CA, Wilkens LR, Koh WP, Cai Q, Aldrich MC, Siegmund KD, Hecht SS, Yuan JM, Blot WJ, Stram DO, Le Marchand L, Park SL. Epigenome-wide association study of total nicotine equivalents in multiethnic current smokers from three prospective cohorts. Am J Hum Genet. 2024 Mar 7;111(3):456-472. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2024.01.012.

1.Ma, B.; Stepanov, I.; Hecht, S. S. Recent studies on DNA adducts resulting from human exposure to tobacco smoke. Toxics 2019, 7.

2.Ma, B.; Villalta, P. W.; Hochalter, J. B.; Stepanov, I.; Hecht, S. S. Methyl DNA phosphate adduct formation in lung tumor tissue and adjacent normal tissue of lung cancer patients. Carcinogenesis 2019.

3.Li, Y.; Ma, B.; Cao, Q.; Balbo, S.; Zhao, L.; Upadhyaya, P.; Hecht, S. S. Mass Spectrometric quantitation of pyridyloxobutyl DNA phosphate adducts in rats chronically treated with N'-nitrosonornicotine. Chem. Res. Toxicol. 2019, 32, 773-783.

4.Stram, D. O.; Park, S. L.; Haiman, C. A.; Murphy, S. E.; Patel, Y.; Hecht, S. S.; Le Marchand, L. Racial/ethnic differences in lung cancer incidence in the multiethnic cohort study: an update. J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 2019.

5.Goniewicz, M. L.; Smith, D. M.; Edwards, K. C.; Blount, B. C.; Caldwell, K. L.; Feng, J.; Wang, L.; Christensen, C.; Ambrose, B.; Borek, N.; van Bemmel, D.; Konkel, K.; Erives, G.; Stanton, C. A.; Lambert, E.; Kimmel, H. L.; Hatsukami, D.; Hecht, S. S.; Niaura, R. S.; Travers, M.; Lawrence, C.; Hyland, A. J. Comparison of nicotine and toxicant exposure in users of electronic cigarettes and combustible cigarettes. JAMA Netw. Open 2018, 1, e185937.




PhD, PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Organic Chemistry)

Honors and Recognition

Elected American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, 2014
Academy for Excellence in Health Research, Academic Health Center, University of Minnesota, 2006
Joseph Cullen Award, American Society of Preventive Oncology, 2012
Merit Award, National Cancer Institute, 2004



2-148 CCRB
2231 6th St SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455