"I realized kids were much more fun than adults, and generally much more cheerful," he says.
Now, when he's not working directly with these fun kids who happen to have cancer, he labors tirelessly on an experimental theory he believes may hold the key to a promising new form of therapy for pediatric bone and soft tissue cancers.
"The main focus of my laboratory research involves trying to identify stem cells within certain kinds of childhood bone tumors. There appears to be a small population of cells within these tumors responsible for why they grow and spread to other places. These cells are relatively resistant to chemotherapy and radiation; they tend to survive and cause patients to relapse," said Dr. Loeb, director of the Musculoskeletal Tumor Program at the Kimmel Center.
While the theory regarding stubborn stem cells was proposed some forty years ago, Dr. Loeb explains that it's only been plausible more recently to go after these damaging stem cells—thanks to the rise of more sophisticated technology. "Over the last ten to fifteen years, we've become much better at isolating small groups of cells. We're now finding these cells in lots of different types of childhood cancers," he says. Ideally, once such cells that resist current therapies are effectively isolated, Loeb and his colleagues plan to hone in on ways to destroy them.
Although mastering the complex nature of pediatric cancers has proven to be a considerable challenge, Dr. Loeb sees great promise in the quest. "We're moving away from treating cancer with the large sledgehammers that are chemo drugs, and moving toward more targeted therapies that will treat cancers more like a scalpel would. One day, the treatment will be vastly different," he says.
Today's pediatric oncologists don't yet have this new type of arsenal at their disposal to fight cancer, but Dr. Loeb believes Hopkins' Kimmel Center has the next best thing. "The entire holistic, comprehensive infrastructure is built around the complicated care we deliver. That makes us able to deliver the best care possible," Dr. Loeb says.
Beyond the immediate and comprehensive team of medical professionals at the Kimmel Center, Dr. Loeb and his colleagues benefit from access to an extensive network of medical professionals who may work down the hall or in an adjacent building—from infectious disease to cardiology and everything in between.
They also enjoy focusing exclusively within one specialty. "Kids with cancer aren't just another group of kids we work with. It's the only group of kids we work with," Dr. Loeb says.