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Dr. Joseph Friedberg

Dr. Joseph Friedberg wants to help mesothelioma patients today, not years from now. That’s why Friedberg’s clinical research is focused on making asbestos-cancer treatments more effective for patients right now.

Friedberg is the chief of thoracic surgery at Philadelphia’s Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, the co-director of the Penn Mesothelioma and Pleural Disease Program and an associate professor of surgery. He has been on the cutting edge of research that has made some revolutionary changes in the way the disease is treated.

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What is Friedberg’s Specialty?

Friedberg is focusing on photodynamic therapy together with lung-sparing surgery as the wave of the future for patients. For the photodynamic therapy, patients are injected with a non-toxic agent, such as a rare earth compound, which causes the cancerous cells to be glow in the dark. A laser is used to kill those cells. There is limited damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. This procedure is known to kill even the microscopic cancer cells that surgery alone cannot remove. Friedberg said the photodynamic therapy has the potential to act like a vaccine against a harsh recurrence of the disease. It also has the potential to activate the immune system. Friedberg said the two procedures together -- the photodynamic therapy and the lung-sparing surgery -- offer greater survival rates than for those patients who opt to have the entire diseased lung removed.

Friedberg is also heading up several promising clinical trials, including a possible vaccine for lung cancer. He and his team of researchers also found that an often-overlooked set of lymph nodes could help predict a mesothelioma patient’s outlook. Friedberg said the lymph nodes, located between the ribs and near the spine, have not been routinely tested to see if the disease has spread. He said these lymph nodes in particular should be routinely biopsied because they can help determine the spread of the disease and serve as a guide for treatment.

While Friedberg said he values his research, he also enjoys the chance to work with patients. He is always striving to bring his research directly to the patients to encourage greater hope. In the June 2011 issue of Annals of Thoracic Surgery, Friedberg said asbestos cancer is slowly moving toward becoming a chronic disease that patients live with instead of a terminal disease. "I'd be happy to turn this into a chronic disease, like diabetes," Friedberg told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2012. "My goal for my career is to make it truly better for these patients. That's what I want to do with the rest of my life."

Friedberg's Background

Dr. Friedberg graduated from the University of Pennsylvania College of Engineering with a bachelor’s degree and received his medical degree from Harvard University. He went on to do his residency and internship at Massachusetts General Hospital. He also completed a fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where Dr. David Sugarbaker is the head of the thoracic surgery department. In addition to being certified in thoracic surgery, Friedberg is certified in general surgery.

Friedberg travels worldwide to present new information to colleagues, including traveling to Australia for the 15th World Conference on Lung Cancer, where he presented his cutting-edge work about lymph nodes. The symposium is put together by the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer. He is also extensively published in peer-reviewed journals, professional journals and research papers. He is a member of several professional organizations including the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American College of Chest Physicians.


Penn Medicine. Joseph S. Friedberg, M.D. Retrieved from http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/surgery/Clinical/faculty/friedberg_joseph.html

Science Daily. “Overlooked Lymph Nodes in Rib Cage Have Prognostic Power for Mesothelioma Patients.” Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131028141541.htm