Stephen Hecht, PhD

Wallin Land Grant Professor of Cancer Prevention, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology

Stephen Hecht

Contact Info

Office Phone 612-624-7604

Fax 612-624-3869

Office Address:
CCRB 2-148

Mailing Address:
Masonic Cancer Research Ctr.
1st Floor Mailroom CCRB
2231 6th St. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Organic Chemistry), 1968

BS, Duke University (Chemistry) 1964


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.


Tobacco, cancer, carcinogens, DNA adducts

Awards & Recognition

  • Elected American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, 2014
  • Joseph Cullen Award, American Society of Preventive Oncology, 2012
  • Selected as Editor-in-Chief, Chemical Research in Toxicology, 2012
  • Elected American Chemical Society Fellow, 2009
  • Founders Award, Division of Chemical Toxicology, American Chemical Society, 2009
  • Academy for Excellence in Health Research, Academic Health Center, University of Minnesota, 2006
  • AACR Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation Award for Excellence in Cancer Prevention Research, 2006
  • Merit Award, National Cancer Institute, 2004
  • Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor Award, 2002
  • Alton Ochsner Award Relating Smoking and Health, 2001
  • American Cancer Society Research Professor, 2000-2009
  • Outstanding Investigator Grant, National Cancer Institute, 1987-2001



PubMed Bibliography

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.