Irina Stepanov, PhD

Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Mayo Professor in Public Health, Division of Environmental Health Sciences

Irina Stepanov

Contact Info

Office Phone 612-624-4998

Office Address:
2-140 Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building

Mailing Address:
2231 6th St SE, Room 2-140
Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building
Minneapolis, MN 55455

PhD, Chemistry, Moldova State University, 2002

BS, Chemistry, Moldova State University, 1997

Postdoctoral Training, Analytical Biochemistry, University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center


In my research program, I am applying the fundamental concepts of science and analytical technologies to incorporate biochemical measurements, such as biomarkers of exposure, harm, and susceptibility to disease, into epidemiological and community-based studies and intervention trials. Such integration can provide important insights into human-environment interactions and offer effective tools for addressing critical issues in public health, such as identification of at-risk populations, public education, and the development of public health policies and regulations.


Aging, chronic diseases, environment & exposures, genetics, mother & children, tobacco, biomarkers, DNA adducts, analytical biochemistry, mass-spectrometry, cancer, inflammation, regulatory science

Awards & Recognition

  • Delta Omega Public Health Honorary Society, 2013
  • Masonic Scholar, Minnesota Masonic Charities, 2011

Professional Associations

  • Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco
  • American Association for Cancer Research
  • American Chemical Society


Research Summary/Interests

My primary research focus is on tobacco carcinogenesis and the mechanisms underlying inter‐individual differences in cancer risk due to tobacco use. Other areas include DNA damage due to oxidative stress and inflammation, and the role of metal exposures in neurobehavioral outcomes in children.

Other Active Studies

International research capacity building (collaboration with Samir Khariwala and Dorothy Hatsukami)

  • Analytical laboratory capacity for the analysis of tobacco carcinogen biomarkers in Mumbai, India;
  • Tobacco research capacity and training program at the Hunan Cancer Hospital, with the focus on the health impact of the dual use of smoking and areca nut-containing products.
  • Investigation of secondhand smoke exposure and carcinogen uptake in elementary school children in Nanning, Guangxi (collaboration with Guangxi CDC).

Development of novel biomarkers to assess the impact of fetal and infant exposure to metals in drinking water on infant neurobehavioral outcomes (collaboration with Pat McGovern).

Investigating the role of DNA damage due to oxidative stress and inflammation in lung cancer and cardiovascular disease risk in the iron mining worker population in Minnesota (collaboration with Jeff Mandel and Bruce Alexander). 

Research Funding Grants

  • 5/14 – 4/19, NIH/NCI, “Nornicotine in smokeless tobacco as a precursor for carcinogen exposure," Principal Investigator
  • 9/13 – 8/18, NIH/NCI, “Constituent Yields and Biomarkers of Exposure for Tobacco Product Regulation,” Principal Investigator
  • 9/15 – 8/19, NIH/NIEHS, “Minnesota CHEAR Exposure Assessment Hub,” Co-Investigator
  • 9/12 – 8/17, NIH/NCI, “Models for tobacco product evaluation,” Co-Investigator
  • 9/11 – 8/17, NIH/NCI, “Evaluating New Nicotine Standards for Cigarettes,” Co-Investigator
  • 4/16 – 3/18, NIH/NIDA, “Animal models for evaluating the relative abuse liability of electronic cigarettes,” Co-Investigator
  • 7/16 – 06/21, NIH/NCI, “Mechanisms of Ethnic/Racial Differences in Lung Cancer Due to Cigarette Smoking,” Co-Investigator


See a full list of my publications on PubMed

Selected Publications

  • Ma B, Ruszczak C, Jain V, Khariwala SS, Lindgren B, Hatsukami DK, and Stepanov I. (2016) Optimized liquid chromatography nanoelectrospray-high-resolution tandem mass spectrometry method for the analysis of 4-hydroxy-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone-releasing DNA adducts in human oral cells. Chemical Research in Toxicology DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.6b00254
  • Yershova K, Yuan JM, Wang R, Valentin L, Watson C, Gao YT, Hecht SS, and Stepanov I. (2016) Tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in cigarettes smoked by the participants of the Shanghai Cohort Study. International Journal of Cancer 139, 1261–1269
  • Coetzee DJ, McGovern PM, Rao R, Harnack LJ, Georgieff MK, and Stepanov I. (2016) Measuring the impact of manganese exposure on children’s neurodevelopment: advances and research gaps in biomarker-based approaches. Environmental Health 15:91 DOI 10.1186/s12940-016-0174-4
  • Ma B, Jing M, Villalta PW, Kapphahn RJ, Montezuma SR, Ferrington DA, and Stepanov I. (2016) Simultaneous determination of 8-oxo-2’-deoxyguanosine and 8-oxo-2’-deoxyadenosine in human retinal DNA by liquid chromatography nanoelectrospray-tandem mass spectrometry. Scientific Reports | 6:22375 | DOI: 10.1038/srep22375
  • Stepanov I, Hatsukami D. (2016) Call to establish constituent standards for smokeless tobacco products. Tobacco Regulatory Science 2(1):9-30. DOI:

Book chapters and technical reports

  • Stepanov I., Soeteman-Hernández L.G., Talhout R. Research and monitoring the evolution of new tobacco products, including products with potentially “modified risks”. In: Report on the Scientific Basis of Tobacco Product Regulations: Fifth Report of a WHO Study Group. WHO Technical report series 989; pp 91-161. WHO Press, World Health Organization 2015
  • Stanfill S., Stepanov I. Chapter 3: A Global View of Smokeless Tobacco Products. In: Smokeless Tobacco and Public Health: A Global Perspective. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. NIH Publication No. 14‐7983; 2014.


Teaching Areas

In my classroom teaching, I draw on my expertise, research, and service experience. My research and service activities in regulatory science permit me to share first-hand experiences of the impact of biomarker-based research on policies and regulations.

I also serve as academic and thesis advisor to MPH, MS, and PhD students and mentor undergraduate students. In my laboratory, I teach and mentor my research staff through day-to-day guidance of research projects and advising on analytical methodologies, techniques, data processing, presentations at seminars and conferences, and writing and publishing manuscripts. 


  • PubH 6162, Biomarkers

Community Engagement

I collaborate with medical doctors, behavioral scientists, surveillance specialists, epidemiologists, educators, and tobacco control experts nationally and internationally to address the complex issues of tobacco use, related exposures, and health outcomes.


In The News

In The Media

  • Vaping epidemic: Schools, health officials concerned with growing e-cigarette use (Grand Forks Herald)
  • Vaping at epidemic levels among teens (WCCO Radio)
  • FDA creates new regulations for e-cigarette companies (MN Daily)
  • Study Looks at E-cigs, Cancer (Duluth News Tribune)
  • Cancer-causing Chemical Formed in E-cigarette Users (Insight News)
  • Verify: Is e-cigarette vapor as harmful as second-hand smoke? (KPNX-TV)

SPH News