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Vital Signs:
New pancreas club is putting the spotlight on a challenging organ

The pancreas, a fist-sized organ tucked behind the stomach, is rarely talked about by the lay public. People may mention the function (or dysfunction) of their lungs, heart, and intestines. But they pay little heed to the out-of-the-way pancreas.

Its location means that even for medical professionals, it's a challenging organ. At DHMC, though, the pancreas is not getting overlooked. The Dartmouth Pancreas Club (DPC), a newly established collaborative, aims to improve the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic diseases. The DPC was created earlier this year by Dr. Murray Korc, chair of medicine, and Dr. Hans Fromm, director of DHMC's Hepatopancreaticobiliary Disease Center.

Consisting mainly of cells that make digestive enzymes, the pancreas also contains cells that produce hormones, most notably insulin. This varied function, as well as the organ's location, complicate the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic disorders. "It's a relatively unique kind of situation," says Korc, a former president of the American Pancreatic Association, because the pancreas "can be affected by so many different conditions and it can mask what's affecting it."

There are similar groups at other medical centers, but "Dartmouth is ideal for fostering programmatic, interdisciplinary interactions," says Korc.

Jennifer Durgin

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