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M. D. Anderson, Partners Break Ground on Proton Therapy Center

M. D. Anderson, Partners Break Ground on Proton Therapy Center
Facility to Offer Pinpointed Radiation Beam Therapy to Patients in 2006
M. D. Anderson News Release 05/07/03

In a unique venture that partners academic medicine with the private sector, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and its collaborators today (May 7) are breaking ground on a proton therapy center that will offer the most advanced innovation in radiation therapy to patients when it opens in 2006.

The Proton Therapy Center at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center will be housed in a 85,000 square-foot building to be constructed near the southeast corner of Old Spanish Trail and Fannin Street.  The proton therapy center and a new M. D. Anderson research building due to open later this month will anchor The University of Texas Research Park, a planned incubator to spur growth in academic and commercial biotechnology in Houston.  The research park is located one and one-half miles south of the Texas Medical Center.

According to James Cox, M.D., head of the Division of Radiation Oncology at M. D. Anderson, proton therapy is the most precise form of radiation therapy available.  Because of proton therapy's sub-millimeter precision, it minimizes harm to surrounding tissues and optimizes treatment of the tumor.

Currently most effective for cancers of the prostate, eye, lung, brain, head and neck and cancers in children, proton therapy gives radiation oncologists greater control and effectiveness in directing and depositing high levels of destructive energies at the tumor. Because a radiation oncologist has the advantage of more precise targeting, the patient receives the most potent radiation treatment possible without damaging surrounding organs or tissue.  Conventional radiation therapy, however, remains a proven and vital cancer therapy, says Cox.

 "Proton therapy marks a new era for radiation therapy with the precision, safety and effectiveness it brings," said Cox. "When I first started out in this discipline three decades ago, we had to give radiation to incredibly large fields of the body because we couldn't determine exactly where the tumor was.

Now, with the evolution of CTs, PET scans and other imaging techniques, we can pinpoint exactly where the tumor is and plan the depth of the radiation to the tumor.  With proton therapy, we will be able to increase doses of radiation, preserve healthy tissue and treat more patients much more successfully."

Cox said that patients do not feel anything during proton therapy treatment, and because of the minimal effect on healthy tissues, they experience few, if any, side effects.

He added that a major component to the proton therapy center, like all clinical activities at M. D. Anderson, will be researching and developing new ways to best utilize and advance proton therapy.  One of many areas of research will be to explore new disease sites that may benefit from the therapy, such as cancers of the breast, rectum, soft tissue and gynecologic and gastrointestinal tracts.  Other research will investigate the interaction of chemotherapy and other molecular agents with proton therapy.

"The proton therapy center is yet another opportunity for outstanding clinically-oriented research, a hallmark of M. D. Anderson," said John Mendelsohn, M.D., president of M. D. Anderson.  "This center will make great contributions to the fields of radiation oncology, cancer care and medicine, we also believe it will be a boon to the biotechnology industry in Houston. This is the most advanced radiation technology in the world and we believe it will spur the next phase of innovation that can come from the biotechnology park.

"The proton therapy center is an example of the type of academic and commercial collaborations that we want to attract to The University of Texas Research Park," continued Mendelsohn.

The 85,000 square-foot, two-story proton therapy center will house three patient treatment rooms, a research room, a full range of patient and research support areas, a synchrotron and beam transport system.

Each patient treatment room will have a patient treatment bed framed by a large wheel known as a gantry.  The gantries, which are 35 feet in diameter and weigh approximately 200 tons, rotate around the patient to direct the proton beam precisely at the tumor target.

The synchrotron, a compact particle accelerator, accelerates protons to variable energies into the beam transport line.  The synchrotron contains of a ring of magnets that constrains the protons to travel in a set path inside the high vacuum chamber.  During each revolution of travel through the chamber, the protons gain an increment of energy from radiofrequency power. After many cycles, the protons reach the energy required by a specific treatment plan and are extracted from the ring into the beam transport line, which then directs the proton beam to the patient in a treatment room.

The proton therapy center, when fully operational in the spring of 2006, will join only two clinical proton beam therapy facilities presently operating in the United States.

One is located in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital/Northeast Proton Therapy Center and the second is in southern California at Loma Linda University Medical Center.  The early clinical success of proton therapy has stimulated interest in this therapy, with other centers being planned in Florida, Pennsylvania and Indiana, said Cox.  There are currently 22 proton treatment facilities operating worldwide and several more under development.

To date, approximately 33,000 patients worldwide have been treated with proton therapy.

The Proton Therapy Center at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center is being built through a partnership that will develop, own and operate the investor-owned freestanding facility. The facility will require approximately $125 million and three years to develop and build. M. D. Anderson is providing the facility site valued at $2.5 million and will have full clinical, research and staffing responsibilities.

Other investors and partners in the project include:  Hitachi, Ltd. And Hitachi America, Ltd., manufacturing and supplying the proton therapy technology; Sanders Morris Harris, Inc., the largest investment bank and securities firm based in the Southwest; The Styles Co., a Houston-based project development and management firm specializing in healthcare
facilities; the Houston Firefighters' Relief and Retirement Fund and Houston Police Officers' Pension System, lead financial investors in the project; General Electric Company; Varian Medical Systems; and IMPAC Medical Systems.

"The partnership that financed, developed and brought to life the proton therapy center has been a unique and very successful partnership," said Leon Leach, executive vice president of M. D. Anderson.

"This is a great example of the innovation M. D. Anderson shows in staying ahead in cancer care without using tax dollars.  We were able to leverage a land investment of $2.5 million for a $125 million facility that will greatly benefit our patients for decades to come.  That is a very enviable position to be in, but because of the support from our partners and investors, we believe they will find this to be an equally beneficial arrangement," continued Leach.

"We hope that this limited partnership will serve as a blueprint for other public universities and private investors to create mutually beneficial entities to further education, research and medical care," said Dan Fontaine, senior vice president of administration and chief legal officer at M. D. Anderson.

"We view this as part of a new era for us," said Max Patterson, executive director of the Houston Firefighters' Relief and Retirement Fund, one of the investors in the project.  "This center is not only an exciting investment for our firefighters' future, it represents the kind of committed public involvement our members want to pursue."

The Proton Therapy Center at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center continues an unprecedented building program to meet the demands of changing technology, increased research funding and projected continued growth in patients in the next six years.  Radiation oncology alone experienced a 90 percent increase in procedures in the last six years.

Currently under construction on the main M. D. Anderson campus is the nine-story, 485,740 square-foot George and Cynthia Mitchell Basic Sciences Research Building that will open in the fall of 2003.

The 732,900 square-foot Ambulatory Clinical Building, located near the corner of Fannin Street and Holcombe Boulevard, is scheduled for occupancy in 2004.  Offering diagnostic testing, imaging services, outpatient clinics, administrative and support areas and parking, the building is the first of a series of new interconnected clinical facilities created over a period of time to offer integrated architecture and green spaces.  Adjacent to the Ambulatory Clinical Building is the Cancer Prevention Center that is scheduled to open in late 2004.

Adjacent to the proton therapy center, in The University of Texas Research Park, the 132,308 square foot South Campus Research Facility is opening later this month.

05/07/03


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