Hecht honored with AACR-Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation Award

PHILADELPHIA -- Stephen S. Hecht, an internationally recognized expert on cancer-causing agents in tobacco and the pathways by which they cause cancer, has been selected to receive the fifth annual American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)-Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation (CRPF) Award for Excellence in Cancer Prevention Research.

Dr. Hecht, the Wallin Professor of Cancer Prevention and the American Cancer Society Research Professor at The Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota, is being honored for more than three decades of research on tobacco and its link to cancer formation and growth.

Over this span of time, Dr. Hecht has been the most cited author on tobacco carcinogenesis, and is generally recognized as the world's leader in research on tobacco-specific human carcinogens called nitrosamines, found in cigarette smoke and smokeless tobacco. Other work in his laboratory, showing that exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke resulted in the presence of tobacco-specific carcinogens in nonsmokers has had a profound impact on clean indoor air laws critical for tobacco control.

"Stephen Hecht's ground-breaking and detailed research on tobacco-specific nitrosamines has enhanced our understanding of tobacco carcinogenesis," said Dr. Margaret R. Spitz, chair of the Department of Epidemiology at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and co-chair of the award selection committee.

"His research has provided a strong scientific rationale for public policies on smoking restriction."

Added Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), chief executive officer of the AACR: "Dr. Hecht has been, and continues to be, among the most recognized scientists in the world studying the impact of tobacco and tobacco products on lung cancer. His critical work in this field marked by its thoroughness, breadth and extraordinary high quality -- is helping to save countless lives from this devastating disease."

It was 1974 when Dr. Hecht, along with Dr. Dietrich Hoffmann, provided the first demonstration of organic carcinogens nitrosamines -- in unburned tobacco. The two scientists identified substantial amounts of a specific nitrosamine called N'-nitrosonornicotine (NNN) in unburned tobacco, suggesting that smokeless tobacco was not a harmless substitute for cigarettes. This work ultimately led to the regulation of smokeless tobacco products.

Dr. Hecht subsequently reported the first synthesis of another nitrosamine, 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK), and he demonstrated its formation from nicotine during the curing process. He further showed that exposure to NNK resulted in lung cancer in laboratory mice and rats, and then characterized how NNK caused lung cancer. In highly detailed studies, Dr. Hecht determined virtually all the known pathways of metabolism of NNK, and later showed the chemical binding of DNA to metabolically activated NNK, NNN and other tobacco-related nitrosamines steps that are critical to the initiation of cancer.

These studies led to the development of biomarkers substances that can be measured in blood or urine to help identify individuals most susceptible to the cancer-causing effects of tobacco products. Such biomarkers also can help determine exposure of non-smokers to second-hand tobacco smoke. Dr. Hecht demonstrated the presence of a metabolite of NNK in the urine of non-smokers exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke in various settings. The metabolite, NNAL, also was discovered in the fetuses and newborns of smoking mothers. Such evidence provided the rationale for tobacco control laws in public places.

Another area of research in the Hecht lab is the identification and development of naturally occurring chemopreventative agents that may help protect smokers from later disease. Current work in this area involves compounds found in cruciferous vegetables, nuts and fruit. Phase II studies to evaluate the efficacy of these agents in smokers and ex-smokers are now being planned.

Other past winners of AACR-CRPF Award for Excellence in Cancer Prevention include Scott M. Lippman, M.D. of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, in 2005; David S. Alberts, M.D., of the Arizona Cancer Center, in 2004; Waun Ki Hong, M.D., also of the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, in 2003; and Michael B. Sporn, M.D., of the Dartmouth Medical School, in 2002.

Dr. Hecht graduated from the Duke University, with a degree in chemistry. He was awarded a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he also did postdoctoral research in mass spectrometry. Prior to moving to the University of Minnesota in 1996, for 23 years Dr. Hecht conducted research at the American Health Foundation in Valhalla, N.Y., where he was Director of Research from 1987-1996. At the University of Minnesota, he is Head of the Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention Program at the Cancer Center, Co-director of the Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center, and a member of the Medicinal Chemistry graduate department.

Dr. Hecht, who has authored or co-authored more than 600 publications, holds a Merit Award and was previously the recipient of an Outstanding Investigator Grant, both from the National Cancer Institute. In 2000, he was named an American Cancer Society Research Professor, one of about 40 in the country. Dr. Hecht has served on several International Agency for Research on Cancer working groups, was a contributor to the 2005 Surgeon General's Report on Passive Smoking and Health, and is chapter editor for cancer in the upcoming Surgeon General's Report on How Tobacco Causes Diseases. He also has participated on numerous government and international committees including the National Cancer Institute's Board of Science Counselors, the National Toxicology Program Board of Scientific Counselors, and the National Center for Toxicological Research Science Advisory Board.

He is active in the AACR, where he has served on program committees for national and special meetings, and on the steering committee of the Chemistry in Cancer Research Working Group.

Dr. Hecht will give an award lecture titled, "A Tobacco-Specific Lung Carcinogen: from Basic Research to Tobacco Control," on Tuesday, November 14, at the Fifth Annual AACR International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research. This premier meeting on cancer prevention research will be held November 12-15, 2006 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Mass.


The AACR is pleased to co-sponsor this award with the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation. CRPF is a national, nonprofit health foundation with a single mission: the prevention and early detection of cancer through scientific research and education.

The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes more than 24,000 basic, translational, and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and more than 70 other countries. AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts over 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special Conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, diagnosis and treatment. AACR publishes five major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Its most recent publication, CR, is a magazine for cancer survivors, patient advocates, their families, physicians, and scientists. It provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship and advocacy.

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