Proton therapy, a highly sophisticated radiation technology for treating cancer, has come to Alabama with the opening of Proton International at UAB. The facility opened with a ribbon-cutting Jan. 13. The center is a partnership between the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Proton International.
Proton International at UAB is one of 36 proton therapy centers in the United States and the first in Alabama.
“With the establishment of this center, UAB Medicine has again brought one of the latest, most advanced medical technologies to our region,” said Will Ferniany, CEO of UAB Health System. “Proton therapy will be a valuable tool that our physicians and scientists in the Department of Radiation Oncology, School of Medicine and the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center can employ to the betterment of thousands of cancer patients in Alabama and the surrounding area.”
Proton therapy uses a beam of protons directed at the tumor site. The beam is configured to deliver the majority of its energy precisely at the tumor. Healthy tissue in front of the tumor receives a minimal amount of energy, and tissue behind the tumor receives little. This reduces damage to healthy tissue that is common in X-ray radiation and the cause of most side effects.
“Opening the center is an important milestone for the residents of Alabama who now have access to proton therapy closer to home,” said Chris Chandler, CEO of Proton International. “Our mission is to work in partnership with leading clinical entities, such as UAB, so patients and families do not have to travel long distances and suffer further cost and stress at such a critical time.”
UAB physicians anticipate beginning consultations with prospective patients in the next two weeks, with the first proton therapy treatments taking place at the end of February.
Proton therapy is used to treat tumors of the brain and central nervous system, spine, head and neck, lung, prostate, liver, gastrointestinal tract and colon, and some breast tumors. While it treats primarily single-site tumors, because of its focused dose capabilities in some cases it can be used for treating cancer that has spread to surrounding tissue.
“Proton therapy will allow us to treat deep-seated cancers,” said James A. Bonner, M.D., the Merle M. Salter Endowed Professor and chair of the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology. “It can be particularly efficacious in the treatment of children, who can be highly sensitive to the effects of radiation therapy. We are excited to offer this cutting-edge approach for patients and families in Birmingham, across Alabama and beyond.”
Proton International at UAB is on 20th Street South between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The facility consists of a three-story building to house clinical exam rooms, offices and the ProBeam proton therapy system, manufactured by Varian Medical Systems, a longtime partner with UAB in the delivery of radiation therapy. The medical staff, including radiation oncologists, medical physicists, dosimetrists, radiation therapy technologists and nurses, will be exclusively from UAB.
The heart of proton therapy is a machine called a cyclotron, which produces the proton beam and delivers it to the precise location in the body to destroy tumor cells. Proton International at UAB’s cyclotron, nick-named Emma, was manufactured in Germany. The $25 million, 90-ton cyclotron was brought by ship to Brunswick, Georgia, then transported to UAB last March by a specialized truck, with 20 axles, 78 wheels, and drivers in front and back. A heavy-lift crane was assembled on Fourth Avenue South to lift and deposit Emma into the facility via the roof.
UAB will be involved in clinical research studies on the use of proton therapy to discover the full utility of the therapy and produce best practice parameters on its use. Click here for a more detailed explanation of how proton therapy works.
This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.