Rochester, Minnesota


Vernon (Shane) S. Pankratz, Ph.D., is a statistician who conducts observational research in three broad areas: breast cancer, dementias of the elderly and vaccines. These research areas are linked in their focus on identifying factors that contribute to the risk of disease. The purpose of his research is to expand the current knowledge base about disease risks, with the end goal of identifying approaches that can be used to reduce or eliminate the risk of developing disease. Dr. Pankratz's research is based on large cohorts of individuals who agree to provide information that can be studied to identify links between risk factors and disease onset. Using a broad variety of statistical methods, he works to identify factors that are associated with the risk of disease and develop and evaluate models that assess the risk of disease onset.

Focus areas

  • What factors influence breast cancer risk following a breast biopsy that resulted in benign findings? Women who have undergone a breast biopsy have been found to be at increased risk of developing breast cancer compared with women who have never had cause to have a biopsy. Dr. Pankratz is working to identify markers observed in benign breast tissue that are associated with increased breast cancer risk. He is currently focused on using information from these tissue biomarkers, together with estimates of overall breast cancer risk in women with benign breast biopsies, to develop and validate a breast cancer risk prediction tool.

  • What role does mammographic density play in breast cancer risk, and what influences mammographic density? Women whose breasts are viewed on a mammogram to be more opaque (of higher density) have an increased risk of breast cancer. Part of Dr. Pankratz's research effort is to identify genetic causes of breast density. Dr. Pankratz is also working to determine whether high breast density is differentially associated with different types of breast cancer.

  • How do genetics contribute to the risk of breast cancer and Alzheimer's disease, as well as variation in responses to vaccination? It has been demonstrated that inherited factors play in important role in a person's risk of a variety of diseases. A long-term theme of Dr. Pankratz's work has been to identify genetic contributors to disease risk. He is studying hundreds of thousands of genetic markers and their associations with the diseases and immune responses of interest. Future work will focus on verifying observed associations and working to identify the specific genetic changes that cause differences in disease risk.

  • Which changes in later life are normal, and which are indicative of the development of dementia? Through the study of a large collection of data obtained from residents ages 70 and older in Olmsted County, Minnesota, Dr. Pankratz is collaborating to identify changes in late life that are observed in individuals who are aging normally, as well as find markers that will provide insight to clinicians and other researchers into what leads to Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

Significance to patient care

The primary benefit to patient care that will arise from Dr. Pankratz's work will be a deepened understanding of the processes by which specific diseases develop. This will ultimately lead to better targets for treatment and prevention of disease. In the short term, however, the risk prediction models that Dr. Pankratz is working to develop will provide valuable tools to clinicians as they counsel patients concerning their risk for breast cancer or Alzheimer's disease, and when risks are high, to select strategies to reduce this risk.

Recent Publications

See my publications

Professional Details

Primary Appointment

  1. Health Sciences Research

Academic Rank

  1. Associate Professor of Biostatistics


  1. PhD - Statistics. Thesis: Stochastic Models and Linkage Disequilibrium: Estimating the Recombination Coefficient Rice University
  2. MA - Statistics Rice University
  3. MS - Statistics. Thesis: Mixed Period Compound Random Number Generators Brigham Young University
  4. BS - Statistics and Mathematics Brigham Young University

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