Newswise — PHILADELPHIA — Ben Z. Stanger, MD, PhD, an 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 Center 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 Center 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.

Stanger, who previously served as the Center’s scientific director, replaces founding director Robert Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, who is now the director of the Abramson Cancer Center.

Stanger received his MD and a 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 University. He was an instructor at Harvard Medical School from 2003 to 2006 before moving to Penn.

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, by introducing a fluorescent protein into the genes of cancer-prone mice, traced the lineage of pancreatic cells as a tumor develops. 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.

Gregory Beatty, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Hematology/Oncology, is the new director of translational research for the Center, and Ursina Teitelbaum, MD, an associate professor of Hematology/Oncology, is the clinical director. Visit the PCRC site for more information, including ongoing research efforts, clinical trials, and patient care.

Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $6.7 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2016 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2016, Penn Medicine provided $393 million to benefit our community.