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Back home in Indiana, inside a futuristic space-age looking room, medical scientists and a team of radiation oncology specialists, will soon activate an atomic accelerator and fire protons at full speed through a device called a cyclotron and into the body of a cancer patient. In a few seconds, the proton beam kills cells in a cancerous tumor, leaving nearby healthy cells untouched.
This was the vision of medical scientists more than 50 years ago, and now this vision is not so far away as Indiana University's Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute (MPRI) in Bloomington becomes a reality later this spring.
"When its all said and done, this is a facility that will treat our families from the Midwest," said Dr. Allan Thornton, who recently came to Indiana by way of the Massachusetts General Hospital to be MPRI's medical director.
"This brings it right down to the personal level", Thornton said. The new Midwest proton center is expected to eventually have the capacity to treat 850 patients a year. But it will be a year or more before the entire operation is in full swing, Dr.Thornton noted. And possibly several years before it reaches its full potential. "We like to walk before we run," he emphasized.
MPRI will also help the local college town economy. It will attract patients and their families from the Midwest region to Bloomington and pump millions of dollars into the area economy. It will also add about 50 jobs."
The world's first hospital-based proton center opened in 1990 at Loma Linda University Medical Center in southern California. Loma Linda has treated more than 8,000 patients with proton beam radiation therapy in the last 12 years, mostly men with prostate cancer.
In 2000, the Northeast Proton Therapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital opened and is treating cancer patients. MPRI will become the third proton center and will put the nation's midsection on the proton map and in the forefront of advanced medical treatment.
The future for more regional proton centers also looks bright. In the southwest, the highly respected cancer program at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston will add protons to its treatment mix. As will the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Philadelphia, and the University of Florida's Shands Medical Center in Jacksonville.
"After a decade of proving at Loma Linda that proton therapy actually works, its becoming a mainstream cancer treatment option," said Leonard Arzt, executive director of the National Association for Proton Therapy. "The public has become knowledgeable about the benefits of proton therapy. That's why we've seen a demand for more regional proton centers. People want to limit their travel time and stay closer to home."
Since its approval by the FDA in 1988, as well as by Medicare and other insurance providers, proton therapy has become a preferred radiation treatment option for certain types of tumors. Compared to standard x-ray radiation therapy, protons minimize side effects and provide more precision coupled with a heavier, but more controlled radiation dose.
Patients can reach Indiana University's proton facility by calling the MPRI toll free number at 1-866-487-6774.
For further information contact: Leonard Arzt at 301-913-9360 or log onto www.proton-therapy.org .
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