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Shana J. Sturla, Ph.D.
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
Zurich, Switzerland

Shana J. Sturla, Ph.D.

Shana Sturla, Ph.D., has led the Laboratory of Food and Nutrition Toxicology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in, Zurich, Switzerland, since November 2009, where she is presently a chair and tenured professor.

Sturla's research correlates biological activity with chemical structure and reactivity. Her research is focused on how small molecules inspired by natural products, food, and their derivatives contribute to mutations in DNA structure. In so doing, she also hopes to discover how the causes of disease influence cancer drug toxicity.

"We have two main directions centered on chemical toxicology," Sturla said. "These include understanding how bioactive food components influence cancer drug toxicity and elucidating chemical aspects of DNA damage-induced mutation."

Sturla is currently the principle investigator on two major international research grants - a Swiss National Science Foundation supported study "Drug-induced reductase profiles in colon cells," and a European Research Council funded project "DNA adduct molecular probes—Elucidating the diet-cancer connection at chemical resolution."

Early in her career, Sturla received a NCI supported mentored career development K01 award to study "Oxygen-Linked Phenol DNA Adducts." Phenols are ubiquitous components of the human environment. Sturla's goal was to determine the chemical and biochemical processes controlling the balance between their carcinogenic and anti-carcinogenic properties.

"The K01 was very important in initiating my independent research, Sturla said. "It allowed me to walk in the door with a vote of confidence and led to my first independent publication," she said.

During that time, Sturla was Assistant Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Minnesota, and was named by the American Association for Cancer Research as a Minority Scholar in Cancer Research recipient, and earned a University of Minnesota McKnight Land Grant Professorship.

Her K01 award established the foundation for her to be successful in obtaining a NCI supported R01 award to study "covalent modification of DNA and protein by bioactivated antitumor Actlfulvenes." It was her K01 which catapulted her career as an internationally recognized scientist and chairman of a international research institution.

When giving advice to younger scientists, Sturla says, "What truly separates great scientists from average ones is one's ability to be "multi-functional."

"Truly outstanding scientists have knowledge, instincts, and professional skills, and they work hard," she says. "It can't be just one thing--really great scientists today must be good at many things—and it does not hurt to have a bit of luck."

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Sturla became interested in science at the age of 13, influenced by her biology and chemistry teacher who was an environmental activist. She earned a B.S. degree in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1996 and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2001.

Sturla credits her postdoctoral advisor, Steve Hecht, for motivating and inspiring her with "his commitment, focus, efficiency, high standards, and care for the people he worked with." She also credits a Ph.D. student -- who mentored her when she was an undergrad—for playing a prominent role in her technical development.

The co-author of 35 publications, her scientific contributions have been the subject of seven news media articles. Since 2004, she has given 48 invited seminars worldwide; members of her lab have given 74 presentations at scientific meetings. Sturla is most proud of her role as a mentor to other young and upcoming scientists. She has mentored Ph.D. students (five completed, 7 current), M.S. students (17 completed, four current), undergraduate students (15 past, one current), and postdoctoral scientists (six past, five current), of which, 43 are female.

She often tells the students she mentors "to be open-minded about unexpected opportunities and, as much as possible, to work on what stimulates them personally rather than what is externally imposed."

To learn more about Dr. Sturla's laboratory, visit

Updated: 01/10/14