Professor, Cell and Developmental Biology

Joseph Leidy Professor in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology

Director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine


Ph.D. University of Rochester School of Medicine in Biophysics

Kenneth S. Zaret, Ph.D. is the Joseph Leidy Professor in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. He is also the Director of UPenn's Institute for Regenerative Medicine.  Dr. Zaret received his Ph.D. in Biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine (1982) and was a Jane Coffin Childs Fellow for his postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco (1982-1985).  From 1986 to 1999, Dr. Zaret was in the Biochemistry Section, and then in the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry at the Brown University Medical School, where he attained the rank of Professor.  From 1999 to 2009, Dr. Zaret was a Senior Member and Leader of the Cell and Developmental Biology Program at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, where he held the W.W. Smith Chair in Cancer Research and initiated the Epigenetics and Progenitor Cells Program.  In 2009, Dr. Zaret moved to the University of Pennsylvania, assuming his current positions.  Dr. Zaret received a Searle Scholar faculty award (1986), a Fulbright U.S.-Spain Co-Investigator Award (1999), the Hans Popper Basic Science Award from the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the American Liver Foundation (2002), 10-year MERIT award from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences, NIH (2006-), and in 2007 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Dr. Zaret is currently on the Editorial Boards of Science magazine and the journals Genes and Development and Current Opinions in Genetics and Development.

Research Interests

Dr. Zaret’s laboratory discovered special gene regulatory proteins called “pioneer factors” that are among the first to bind genes in embryonic development; pioneer factors loosen the local chromosomal structure and allow genes to be activated.  His laboratory also identified a dynamic signaling network that extends from the external cell environment to the genome and induces liver and pancreas tissues in the embryo.  Information from these studies is being used by diverse groups to generate new liver cells and pancreatic beta cells from stem cells.  Recent studies from Dr. Zaret’s laboratory have unveiled molecular barriers that can be overcome to help convert one type of cell into another.  His laboratory has also used stem cell technology to develop a new experimental model for human pancreatic cancer.

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