2017 Grant Recipient Kenneth Zaret, PhD

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2017 GRANTEE: Kenneth Zaret, PhD

University of Pennsylvania
Research Project: Early Detection of PDAC in New-onset Diabetes and Other Cohorts
Award: 2017 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Early Detection Targeted Grant
Award Period: July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2020
Amount: $225,000

Biographical Highlights
Dr. Zaret is the Joseph Leidy Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the Perlman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. He earned his BA and PhD degrees from the University of Rochester and then undertook his postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Zaret’s interest is in understanding the molecular networks and accompanying clinical biomarkers that drive the development of human pancreatic cancer.

Project Overview
Improvements in the pancreatic cancer survival rate require better early detection to allow more patients access to surgical resection and more treatment options and for the opportunity to discover patients to partner with researchers to discover new therapeutics. Dr. Zaret and his research team’s goal is to employ a new blood biomarker panel to detect early stages of pancreatic cancer in patients with new-onset diabetes and other cohorts. Biomarkers are detectable and measurable substances that signify the presence of a disease.

A small fraction of adults acquires diabetes as a consequence of undiagnosed pancreatic cancer, providing an opportunity to diagnose pancreatic cancer in its earlier stages in this population. Dr. Zaret and colleagues developed a two-component blood biomarker panel that has been tested on 746 cancer and control blood samples in three studies to date. The test yielded a specificity of 98 percent and 87 percent sensitivity for pancreatic cancer in the largest study (567 individuals). Specificity and sensitivity refer to the test’s ability to correctly identify people without or with the disease, respectively.

The researchers’ blood biomarker panel was found to perform as well in detecting resectable (surgically removable) stage I and II disease as non-resectable stage III and IV pancreatic cancer. Further, the test improves on the ability of existing blood markers to distinguish pancreatic cancer from benign pancreatic diseases.

The investigators have worked for four years with an efficient pipeline for sample handling, assays and statistical analysis, and they have a preclinical biomarker development lab to handle the scale of a large patient study. Therefore, Dr. Zaret’s team will apply their biomarker panel to 3,800 blood samples from individuals over 50 years of age with new-onset diabetes.

Dr. Zaret presents a biomarker panel to test in a large pancreatic cancer patient study and with the potential to validate additional markers for even greater diagnostic accuracy in the future.