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Proton Accelerator on the Way to Siteman

Jason Merrill

Mevion Medical Systems ships first superconducting synchrocyclotron to Siteman.

Oct. 27, 2011 – The cross-country delivery of a technology that could revolutionize radiation therapy for many cancer patients is making its way to St. Louis and the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.

The world’s first superconducting synchrocyclotron proton accelerator is scheduled to arrive at Siteman’s Kling Center for Proton Therapy at the corner of Euclid and Forest Park avenues on Sunday, Oct. 30. The accelerator is a key component of the Mevion S250 Proton Therapy System that is currently being installed at the Kling Center. It left the headquarters of manufacturer Mevion Medical Systems in Littleton, Mass., on Oct. 25. 

Proton therapy is a highly accurate form of radiation therapy used to treat tumors near vital organs like the spine, brain, heart and eye in adult and pediatric patients.

“Protons allow us to target tumors with greater precision because we can adjust the depth of the radiation,” says Washington University radiation oncologist Jeffrey Bradley, MD, Kling Center director. “We then avoid a collateral dose that exposes other organs and healthy tissue.”

The issue that has hindered the technology’s expansion is expense. Existing proton facilities in the U.S. have cost in excess of $150 million to build due to the size of the current generation of cyclotrons. So far these cyclotrons have required free-standing, football field-sized buildings that deliver protons to three or four “vaults” for patient treatment. Currently, the closest location to St. Louis offering proton therapy is more than 220 miles away.

The Kling Center for Proton Therapy will cost about $25 million and will employ a superconducting cyclotron that is so small, it will be housed in a single room not much larger than a traditional radiation therapy room. The cost of this single-vault proton therapy approach – the first if its kind in the nation – will be only a fraction of the investment needed for current proton therapy systems.

"Our role in helping bring this technology from laboratory to clinical use should eventually make this treatment available to many more across the country," Bradley says. "It is much more affordable than the current delivery system and occupies a fraction of the space."

The Mevion S250 Proton Therapy System has not been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for clinical use. Administrators at Siteman and Barnes-Jewish Hospital hope to begin treating patients by the end of 2012. Once FDA approval is obtained, the center should treat about 25 patients a day, primarily children and adults with brain tumors or cancers of the skull base, head and neck area, spinal cord and eye. The center also will offer new therapies for lung, abdominal, prostate and other cancers.

“This therapy will allow us to offer new ways to treat many types of cancers,” says Bradley, who serves as the S. Lee Kling Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology. Through the named professorship, he receives permanent support to lead a team of researchers who investigate how to best use proton therapy to meet patient needs.