Robert Turesky Named Masonic Chair in Cancer Causation

December 11, 2018

Robert Turesky, PhD, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota, has been appointed as the Masonic Chair in Cancer Causation.

Turesky is well known for his participation in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report linking processed and grilled meats to increased incidence of colorectal cancer. His research focuses on hazardous chemicals found in food, tobacco smoke, and medicinal herbs which metabolize in our bodies and cause genetic damage that can lead to cancer. 

“The way chemicals in our food and environment interact with our tissues has implications for our health,” said Douglas Yee, MD, Director of the Masonic Cancer Center. “Dr. Turesky's work demonstrating the way certain chemicals could cause cancer will lead to new strategies to detect these substances and minimize human exposure to them to prevent cancers.”

Turesky is the Director of the Analytical Biochemistry shared resource at the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, the Twin Cities’ only Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated ‘Outstanding’ by the National Cancer Institute. He has also served on the Scientific Advisory Board of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and as Division Director of Chemistry at the National Center for Toxicological Research of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Turesky’s research focuses on what happens in the body when people ingest heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). HAAs are chemicals which form from the reaction of biochemicals in muscle tissue during high temperature grilling and frying of meats. PAHs are chemicals that form when meat is smoked, charred, or cooked over an open flame. Some of these chemicals are also found in tobacco smoke. Turesky’s research shows that higher temperatures and longer cooking times lead to higher levels of HAAs and PAHs in meats. Upon ingestion, enzymes in our bodies then change these chemicals into reactive intermediates that can damage DNA.

“I am thrilled and honored to receive the appointment as the Masonic Chair in Cancer Causation. Minnesota Masonic Charities has been an important source of support to my research program during the past five years for which I am most grateful,” Turesky said. “This new appointment will enable my laboratory to further advance our research programs using cutting-edge mass spectrometry technology to investigate chemicals in the diet and environment, their uptake in the body, and capacity to damage the genome. Many of these chemicals are believed to contribute to the development of colorectal, bladder, prostate, and breast cancers.”

Turesky earned a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry at the University of Massachusetts, and went on to receive his PhD in Nutrition and Food Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was formerly on the faculty of the State University of New York at Albany, and prior to that worked at the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The Chair in Cancer Causation was funded by the Minnesota Masonic Charities’ transformational accelerated payment of $25 million in 2018. This incredible infusion of funds is accelerating the pace of research into cancer prevention and precision care at the Masonic Cancer Center. 

About the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

The Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota is the Twin Cities’ own Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated ‘Outstanding’ by the National Cancer Institute. For more than 25 years, researchers, educators, and care providers have worked to discover the causes, prevention, detection and treatment of cancer and cancer-related diseases. Learn more at cancer.umn.edu.