Benjamin Oshrine, M.D., apologizes to the patient, who giggles as Oshrine examines him. His hands are cold.
Oshrine easily puts patients at ease and makes small talk with kids in what many might find a challenging environment. He is an oncologist specializing in blood and marrow transplantation (BMT) at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
“All the patients I care for have life-threatening disease, and many develop serious complications,” Oshrine says. “Being able to help a family through that — medically, emotionally and psychologically — is what keeps me in this field. That children are so resilient and courageous makes it that much more inspiring.
“The experiences that I find most inspiring are not necessarily when a patient has a good outcome, but helping a patient and their family navigate a challenging situation.”
Oshrine, 39, already has helped many families as a leader in the field. He is Division Chief of the blood and marrow transplantation program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. Recently, he was recognized on the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” list for his achievements.
Oshrine was attracted to oncology for a variety of reasons, but it started with human connections when he was a child.
“When I was in elementary school, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer,” he says. “Experiencing her battle with cancer was certainly a source of motivation for me as my career plans began to take shape. Most importantly, hearing her describe the compassion and empathy of her treatment team, and how that affected her and helped her overcome her disease, was instrumental in my decision to pursue a career as an oncologist.”
Oshrine trained in some of the country’s top programs. He graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Princeton University, earned his medical degree at the University of Virginia, completed a residency at Boston Children’s Hospital and a pediatric oncology/hematology fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The compassion and empathy his mother described was reinforced for Oshrine by one of the surgeons he trained under at Virginia.
“I had one mentor who was fond of saying, ‘There is no task that is too small if it’s in the best interest of the patient,’” Oshrine says. “Despite his status in the hospital, he would gladly do things that might not seem the responsibility of the physician, from changing a diaper in the NICU to picking up trash on the floor or cleaning up a spill. If it was in the best interest of the patient at the time, then it was your responsibility to do that. I will never forget this message and strive to live up to it every day.”
Pediatric cancer treatment has improved dramatically in the past half century. More than 80 percent of children with cancer now survive more than five years, an improvement of more than 20 percentage points since the 1970s, according to the American Cancer Society.
In addition to the personal connections, the evolution of oncology and BMT from an academic standpoint attracted Oshrine.
“Cancer care in general, and pediatric cancer care in particular, is really undergoing a transformation right now,” he says.
Oshrine joined the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute in 2014. His own research seeks to optimize transplant outcomes for children with high-risk acute leukemias, specifically acute myeloid leukemia (AML). His team has an open clinical trial that uses a combination of medications to target the DNA structure of leukemia cells, seeking to prevent post-transplant relapse, which is a common cause of treatment failure. He also works with scientists in the hospital’s Institute for Fundamental Biomedical Research to understand whether they can better predict relapse and other transplant complications.
Oshrine was instrumental in Johns Hopkins All Children’s becoming the first certified pediatric center in Florida to offer chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy, which uses a patient’s own cells to fight acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The hospital performed 17 such gene therapy procedures in its most recent fiscal year between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020.
“There is a shift from using a donor’s marrow to using genetically modified cells from the patient, which is much safer and potentially more effective than traditional transplant,” Oshrine says. “I expect these trends to continue, making the treatment of these life-threatening conditions safer and more effective.”
Oshrine is proud to be part of a program that can offer such emerging therapies, but he also thrives on maintaining that connection to the patients, cold hands or not.
“We’re big enough that we can provide access to cutting-edge treatments for our patients, but we’re small enough to retain that personal touch,” he says. “When you come to Johns Hopkins All Children’s blood and marrow transplant program, you really become part of an extended family.”