Oct. 2, 2016

Investigator Spotlight

Stephen Hecht, Ph.D., is a Carcinogenesis & Chemoprevention Research Program member at screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-4-35-14-pmthe Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, and a Wallin Land Grant Professor of Cancer Prevention at UMN Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology. Dr. Hecht and his laboratory are 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. The goal of Dr. 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.

Dr. Hecht has had more than 800 manuscripts published in scientific journals, was elected American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow in 2014, received the Joseph Cullen Award from the American Society of Preventative Oncology in 2012 and selected as editor-in-chief of Chemical Research in Toxicology in 2012, among a long list of other awards and recognitions.

Thought leader perspectives

douglas-yeeDouglas Yee, M.D., director of Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Cancer prevention continues to rely on understanding the biological and behavioral factors in the etiology of cancer, and we aim to reduce behaviors that may lead to cancer or enhance behaviors that decrease cancer risk. Since tobacco use is associated with 12 different cancers and accounts for one third of all cancer deaths, our multidisciplinary team is focused on understanding the mechanisms of tobacco-induced cancer, leading to new insights for prevention and providing expertise in analyzing harmful constituents in tobacco products and developing biomarkers of tobacco exposure and harm.

Using these biomarkers, we hope to personalize decisions about risk reduction. We anticipate the biomarker evaluation will identify people who are at higher risk for lung cancer, develop preventative measures, help tobacco smokers quit smoking, and at the same time, assist physicians in developing more targeted healthcare programs and interventions.  The data generated will be incorporated into a conceptual framework that has been developed in order to contact a risk assessment analysis of tobacco products, like electronic cigarettes.

We are currently using state of the art genomic methods to determine why African Americans and Native Hawaiians are more susceptible to develop lung cancer than whites, while Latinos and Japanese American are less susceptible. The findings will be incorporated into novel methods for lung cancer prevention.

At the same time, we are working toward gaining enough evidence to provide the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) with results that would establish standards for tobacco products, such as reducing the levels of harmful constituents in them. Our expectation is as a result, the rate of tobacco use would dramatically decrease and would have a profound impact on the number of cancer deaths associated with smoking.


About the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium: The Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium was created in 2013 to transform the conduct of cancer research through collaborative, hypothesis-driven, highly translational oncology trials that leverage the scientific and clinical expertise of Big Ten universities. The goal of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium is to create a unique team-research culture to drive science rapidly from ideas to new approaches to cancer treatment. Within this innovative environment, today’s research leaders collaborate with and mentor the research leaders of tomorrow with the unified goal of improving the lives of all patients with cancer.

About the Big Ten Conference: The Big Ten Conference is an association of world-class universities whose member institutions share a common mission of research, graduate, professional and undergraduate teaching and public service. Founded in 1896, the Big Ten has sustained a comprehensive set of shared practices and policies that enforce the priority of academics in the lives of students competing in intercollegiate athletics and emphasize the values of integrity, fairness and competitiveness. The broad-based programs of the 14 Big Ten institutions will provide over $200 million in direct financial support to almost 9,500 students for more than 11,000 participation opportunities on 350 teams in 42 different sports. The Big Ten sponsors 28 official conference sports, 14 for men and 14 for women, including the addition of men’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse since 2013. For more information, visit www.bigten.org.