PHILADELPHIA — Kenneth S. Zaret, PhD, a nationally recognized leader in the fields of developmental and stem cell biology, has been named the new director of the Penn Institute for Regenerative Medicine (IRM). Zaret, who was the IRM associate director, is also the co-director of the Epigenetics Program in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Established in 2006, IRM is a locus for interdisciplinary research involving faculty from more than 25 departments in five schools to advance the field of regenerative medicine. As IRM associate director, Zaret worked with John Gearhart, PhD, first director of the IRM, and Ed Morrisey, PhD, IRM scientific director, to establish IRM as a national leader in the field.

“I am confident that Dr. Zaret will bring his solid knowledge and experience in developmental and stem cell biology, as well as epigenetics, to lead the Institute for Regenerative Medicine into its next chapter of research, education, and clinical advances,” said J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, dean of the Perelman School of Medicine and executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System.

“In the next phase of the Institute, I aim to coalesce new discoveries, technologies, and ethical perspectives to create important scientific and clinical advances, especially in the areas of digestive tissue regeneration, cancer diagnosis and targeting, and skin repair, with additional focus on musculoskeletal, nervous system, and cardiovascular repair,” said Zaret.

He earned his PhD degree from the University of Rochester Medical School and completed his postdoctoral training in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco. Before joining Penn in 2009 as the Joseph Leidy Professor in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, he was a Senior Member of the Cell and Developmental Biology Program at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, where he held the W. W. Smith Chair. Prior to that, Zaret was on the faculty of the Brown University Medical School.

The goal of his research program has been to understand how genes are activated to specify different cell types during embryonic development. Zaret’s lab discovered a basis for the normal path of development in different tissue types by identifying pioneer transcription factors that engage target genes in progenitor cells, early in the development process. He established the use of mammalian embryonic endoderm cells as an experimental system and used them to discover signals that induce liver and pancreas tissue in the embryo. These discoveries are now used by others in regenerative medicine to identify specific types of stem cells for therapies and research.

His lab discovered that endothelial cells possess a direct signaling role in promoting liver and pancreas development, a finding that colleagues use to enhance artificial organ development. While investigating the basis by which cells resist being reprogrammed, the Zaret lab also found large areas on chromosomes that physically block the binding of regulatory factors, which must be overcome to allow cell reprogramming. 

Recently, his lab used stem-cell technology to reprogram human pancreatic cancer cells to develop an experimental model to recreate and study early stages of the disease.

Zaret has written or cowritten nearly 100 peer-reviewed research articles, as well as numerous book chapters. He has been an editor of the journals Molecular and Cellular Biology and Development; chaired international scientific meetings; and served on numerous scientific advisory boards for academia, biotech/pharma, and the National Institutes of Health, including the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Council.

Among numerous professional accolades, he has received a MERIT award from NIGMS, the Hans Popper Basic Science Award from the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the American Liver Foundation, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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 $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 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 $373 million awarded in the 2015 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 Chestnut Hill Hospital and 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 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.