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Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center / Centers & Clinics

Pediatric Oncology

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Thoughts From Our Childhood Cancer Expert

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Brian Ladle, M.D., Ph.D. began seriously considering a career in oncology back in high school, after seeing up close the toll that cancer treatments took on a close friend with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I wanted to change that,” he says.

With Dr. Ladle’s primary research focus on immunology, which involves using patients’ own immune system to treat their cancer, he hopes to fulfill his teenage dream. “I’m striving to understand how cancer evades the immune system and to develop treatments that will overcome this inhibition,” he explains.

Currently, Dr. Ladle and his associates are applying this research focus in the laboratory, targeting sarcoma tumors. In their work to activate the immune system against sarcoma tumors, they are testing experimental vaccines in combination with different agents they believe will improve their effectiveness.

In a related initiative, Dr. Ladle is exploring the possibility of using the body’s existing immune cells found in bone marrow—through which many tumors spread—to improve immunity. By extracting immune cells, “enriching” them and then re-introducing them to a patient, they may help to enhance a patient’s immune response.

Dr. Ladle believes his research on experimental immunology management options is overdue. For the past 20 years, the standard of care treatment has remained relatively unchanged for the cancers in which he specializes, including osteosarcoma and other soft-tissue sarcomas like Ewing sarcoma.

“Our progress has been so slow in treating these diseases. I hope immunotherapy can change that. Great advances are being seen in treating several adult cancers with immunotherapy. We are working to bring these same successes to pediatric sarcomas,” he says.

While the slow pace of developing new and improved treatment options can be frustrating, Dr. Ladle maintains a positive outlook. He finds reward in knowing that he is delivering the best care in the world, helping families through an extremely challenging time, and developing lasting relationships with both patients and family members. “Kids are so positive in general. They can be enduring awful things, but they do their best and enjoy the times they feel well. I love getting to know and work with the families. We work with incredible parents and siblings who will do anything for their child or brother or sister,” he says.

With his patients and their families in mind, Dr. Ladle is driven to do more. The toxicity of current treatments, and the fact that not all patients respond favorably motivates him. As he looks to the future, he sees immune therapy playing an increasingly larger role in pediatric cancers.

“I hope to play a part in changing the paradigm of how pediatric cancers are treated, from mainly toxic chemotherapy to replacing them with immune-related agents that will provide potent treatment effects and long-term protection against their cancer returning,” he says. “At the end of my career, I hope to sit down with families and lay out a treatment plan that will effectively treat their cancer without worry of infertility, growth problems, secondary cancers or life-threatening infections.”