Dr. Friedberg's Medical Specializations
As a thoracic surgeon, Dr. Friedberg specializes in surgically treating diseases affecting the chest, including pleural mesothelioma.
Primarily, Dr. Friedberg focuses on lung-sparing treatment options for pleural mesothelioma, including using an innovative combination of light therapy (photodynamic therapy) and vaccines.
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)-Generated Autologous Tumor Vaccine
Dr. Friedberg is currently working on a PDT-generated autologous tumor vaccine. PDT uses a photosensitizing drug and a specific type of light.
To treat the tumor, the doctor injects the photosensitizer into the patient’s bloodstream. From there it is absorbed by cells all over the patient’s body. However, the drug remains in cancerous cells longer than it does in healthy cells.
After giving the healthy cells a chance to get rid of the photosensitizer, which is between 24 and 72 hours after the patient was injected, the doctor exposes the tumor to the special light.
This light travels through the body — how far it can travel is determined by what wavelength the light is — and reacts with the photosensitizer.
When the photosensitizing drug is hit with the light, it creates an active form of oxygen. This oxygen then kills the cancer cells that surround it.
PDT doesn’t only just kill the cancer cells. While destroying the cancer cells is the primary way that PDT treats cancer, it also appears to attack the tumor in a couple of other ways.
These methods are:
- Activating Immune System: One way that PDT may treat cancer is by activating the immune system and causing the patient’s own body to fight off the cancer cells.
- Damage Tumor Blood Vessels: The second way PDT treats cancer is by drug damaging the blood vessels in the tumor. This would then stop the cancer cells from getting the nutrients they need to grow, so in essence, the PDT may be starving the tumor.
Another form of treatment that Dr. Friedberg is known for is his lung-sparing surgery. Dr. Friedberg developed the lung-sparing surgery for mesothelioma while he was working at the University of Pennsylvania.
As the name suggests, this procedure — which can take between 6 and 14 hours — strives to save the lung, diaphragm, and sac around the heart, while removing as much of the cancer as possible from the lung’s lining.
The reason Dr. Friedberg wanted to save the lung, even though it is more difficult than removing is to give his patients a better quality of life.
One of the difficulties doctors have with mesothelioma is that the cancer doesn’t form in one large tumor.
Mesothelioma forms in a series of smaller tumors, some of which are too small for the surgeon to see. That is why doctors had to remove the lung and other affected areas.
ut lung-sparing surgery is capable of accomplishing a macroscopic complete resection, which means the operation can remove all detectable cancer in the lung’s lining.
While a macroscopic complete resection does mean the patient still has some mesothelioma tumors, the lung-sparing surgery does increase their life-expectancy.
Did You Know?
The average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is between 12 to 18 months. However, in Dr. Friedberg’s study of the lung-sparing surgery, the median survival rate — that is how long 50% of the patients were alive after treatment — was 35 months.
If the cancer had not spread to the patient’s lymph nodes, then the patient’s survival rate was even longer. Dr. Friedberg often combines this surgery with PDT to kill the remaining cancer cells.
Other Research Interests
Not one to merely hang his hat on a hook after pioneering a new cancer treatment, Dr. Friedberg is continuing the practice he acquired as a Greenebaum fellow and looking for new ways to turn research into medical practices.
He has also developed photobrachytherapy, which uses a blend of radioisotopes, photosensitizers, tiny phosphorescent substances known as nanophosphors, bioabsorbable plasmonic nanovesicles or tiny fluid-filled sacs that the body can absorb, and immunotherapy to treat cancer.
Dr. Friedberg is continually trying to find new ways to treat mesothelioma patients. Currently, Dr. Friedberg is working on an inhaled sealant that will stop air from leaking out of a patient’s lungs.
He is also trying to find a better way to intubate patients, as well as creating a new minimally invasive device that will help control major blood vessels and a new type of surgical drain.