Silvia Balbo, PhD

Associate Professor, Division of Environmental Health Sciences

Silvia Balbo

Contact Info

Office Phone 612-624-4240

Office Address:
2-145 Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building

Mailing Address:
Masonic Cancer Center
2231 6th St. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

PhD, Medical Chemistry/Genetic Toxicology, University of Torino

MS, Medicinal Chemistry, University of Torino

Post-Doctorate, Molecular Cancer Epidemiology, International Agency for Cancer Research, Lyon, France

Post-Doctorate, Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention, University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center


I study the interaction of DNA and chemicals to investigate how lifestyle and environment exposures cause disease. My work focuses on the development of mass spectrometry-based methods for the identification and quantification of DNA addition products (called adducts) in animals and humans. 


Environment & exposures, food & nutrition, alcohol, tobacco, DNA damage, mass spectrometry, exposome, cancer, analytical chemistry, metabolism

Awards & Recognition

  • Delta Omega Honorary Public Health Society
  • 2007 ECNIS - European Network of Excellence on Cancer and Nutrition travel award
  • 2015 Pi Chapter of the Delta Omega honorary Public Health Society
  • 2016 ISSNAF Hogan Lovells Award for research in Medicine, Biosciences and cognitive science Italian Embassy, Washington D.C. October 18, 2016
  • 2019 American Chemical Society, Chemical Research in Toxicology Young Investigator award.
  • 2020 CGHSR (Center for Global Health & Social Responsibility) Faculty Mentor Award

Professional Associations

  • American Association for Cancer Research
  • American Chemical Society
  • American Society for Mass Spectrometry


Research Summary/Interests

My work focuses on studying mechanisms of chemical carcinogenesis, in particular those related to alcohol and tobacco exposures. I am working to develop more accurate methods to quantify the genotoxic effects deriving from these exposures and thus to measure the corresponding DNA damage. I draw upon my expertise in organic synthesis, analytical chemistry, cell culture, and molecular epidemiology to develop integrated approaches aiming at quantifying DNA samples collected in clinical trials and molecular epidemiology studies.

Areas of expertise
  • Biomarkers for the investigation of chemical carcinogenesis, with particular emphasis on biomarkers of human exposure to be used in epidemiological studies
  • Synthesis of compounds to needed as standards for analytical methods (Organic synthesis, NMR)
  • Analytical biochemistry: development of analytical procedures for the analysis of trace levels of biomarkers in biological samples by HPLC, LC-MS-MS and high resolution LC-MS/MS and other analytical methods
  • Animal models and cell culture techniques to investigate carcinogenic processes and metabolic pathways.
  • Cytotoxicity, genotoxicity and mutagenicity assays (including COMET and micronuclei assays)
  • Design and management of clinical trials and experience in obtaining Institutional Review Board approval for clinical protocols
  • Cross-disciplinary collaborations with epidemiologists and clinicians.
  • Management of a research team and supervision of multiple parallel projects
Research Activity
As a Research Associate at the Masonic Cancer Center:
  • Investigating carcinogenic mechanisms of two potent carcinogenic tobacco specific nitrosamines: NNN and NNK focusing on the specific action of NNN enantiomers and NNK metabolite NNAL enantiomers.
  • Investigating relationship between alcohol exposure and formation of acetaldehyde-derived DNA adducts in Humans and in tissues obtained from monkeys exposed to alcohol.
  • Investigating the effects of food on acetaldehyde-derived DNA adducts in order to assess the confounding role of diet in the investigation of alcohol-related acetaldehyde DNA adducts.
  • Supervising a project focusing on the investigation of levels of acrolein-DNA adducts in oral cell samples from lung cancer patients
  • Supervising the synthesis of standards to be used in the investigation of the Phenantrol metabolic pathways
  • Investigating mechanisms of carcinogenesis in lung stem cells (Collaboration with Dr. Fekadu Kassie, University of Minnesota)
  • Investigating effects of indol-3-carbinol on formation of NNK induced DNA adducts (Collaboration with Dr. Fekadu Kassie, University of Minnesota)
  • Investigating effects of Kava extracts on formation of NNK induced DNA adducts (Collaboration with Dr. Xing, University of Minnesota)

Research Funding Grants

  • "Acetaldehyde-derived DNA Adducts for the Investigation of Alcohol Hangover," MCOHS Pilot Projects Research Training Program, Principal Investigator
  • "DNA Adductomics for the Investigation of Alcohol Related DNA Damage," American Cancer Society Pilot Project Grant, Principal Investigator
  • "DNA Adductomics to Study the Role of Inflammation in NNK-induced Lung Carcinogenesis," Masonic Cancer Center Program Internal Grant, Principal Investigator



Teaching Areas

In addition to teaching toxicology courses, I teach and train in my laboratory, where I supervise students and post-doctoral fellows. 


  • PubH 6161, Regulatory Toxicology


In The News

SPH News

In The Media

  • Research shows possible link between E. coli and cancer (Food Poisoning Bulletin)
  • Are E-Cigarettes Safe? Here's What the Science Says (Time)
  • FDA creates new regulations for e-cigarette companies (MN Daily)
  • Vaping Could Raise Risk of Cancer, Study Finds (Newsweek)
  • Vaping increases risk of DNA mutations which could lead to cancer, study suggests (Yahoo! News)
  • Vaping Can Damage DNA, But Will It Cause Cancer? (U.S. News & World Report)