Ben Z. Stanger, associate professor of gastroenterology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, has been appointed director of the Penn Pancreatic Cancer Research Center (PCRC).
The PCRC includes a multidisciplinary team of pancreatic cancer experts who care for patients and conduct research on the causes and possible prevention and cure of the disease. The team includes medical oncologists, surgeons, gastroenterologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists and radiologists. The PCRC emphasizes personalized medicine, with an aim of providing hope through research to patients diagnosed with this devastating disease.
Although pancreatic cancer survival rates have been improving, there is significant room for improvement. According to the American Cancer Society, the one-year survival rate is 20 percent and the five-year rate is seven percent for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined.
The PCRC covers a broad range of research, including: understanding the molecular mechanisms of metastasis; defining the barriers to effective anti-cancer immunotherapy; developing new strategies for targeting the tumor stroma to make chemotherapy more effective; how responses to changes in oxygen availability impact development of disease; developing three-dimensional culture methods for more precise modeling of the tumor environment; and searching for new biomarkers of early forms of the disease. It also maintains a portfolio of clinical trials to improve survival and quality of life for patients at all stages of the disease.
Dr. Stanger, who previously served as the PCRC’s scientific director, replaces founding director Robert Vonderheide, who is now the director of the Abramson Cancer Center.
Dr. Stanger received his MD and his PhD in genetics from Harvard Medical School. He completed his residency in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco; a research and clinical fellowship in gastroenterology at Massachusetts General Hospital; and a research fellowship in molecular biology at Harvard. He was an instructor at Harvard Medical School from 2003-2006 before moving to Penn.
Dr. Stanger’s research focuses on understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of cancer metastasis, particularly of the pancreas and the liver. Notably, the Stanger laboratory traced the lineage of pancreatic cells as a tumor develops by introducing a fluorescent protein into the genes of cancer-prone mice. They track these fluorescent cells as they acquire added cancerous features and metastasize to other organs. Their goal is to use this method to understand how tumor cells spread and to learn what makes each individual tumor distinct in order to deliver individualized treatments to patients.