Construction Begins on Proton Beam Facility

Jason Merrill

Center could revolutionize cancer radiation treatment.

October 23, 2008 – Construction is under way at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine on a technology some think will revolutionize radiation therapy for cancer patients.

The Kling Center for Proton Therapy at Siteman will take an expensive technology available at a few centers in the United States and make it more cost-effective and accessible.

This would be accomplished by shrinking the football-field-sized facility typically used to house it to a single room. The center is scheduled to open in October 2009.

“It will change the scope of facilities that use protons,” says radiation oncologist Jeff Bradley, MD, director of the Kling Center for Proton Therapy.

Proton beam therapy is a form of radiation treatment used in adults to shrink tumors near vital organs like the spine or brain and also in pediatric cancer patients whose bodies are still growing.

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

The issue that has hindered the technology’s expansion is cost. Existing proton beam facilities in the Unites States have cost $100 to $200 million due to the size and resulting cost of the cyclotron that generates the protons. So far, these cyclotrons have required free-standing, football-field-sized buildings with several “vaults” for patient treatment.

The Kling Center at Siteman, to be built in partnership with Still River Systems Inc. of Littleton, Mass., will cost around $20 million and contain a cyclotron so small – the first of its kind in the country – it will be housed in a single room not much larger than a traditional radiation therapy room.

“If we’re successful, the number of single-vault facilities will escalate and the number of multiple-vault units will drop,” Bradley says.

When it opens, the center will treat about 250 patients a year. One-third of those would be children, and another third would be patients suffering from brain cancer or other cancers of the central nervous system. The final third would be patients receiving new therapies for lung, prostate and abdominal cancers.

“This therapy will allow us to offer new ways to treat many types of cancers,” Bradley says.