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NAPT Lifetime Achievement Awardees

2018: Dr. Herman Suit

Dr. Herman Suit

Dr. Herman Suit began practicing while the field of radiation oncology was still in its infancy and served as a key leader in the development of proton therapy as an effective, mainstream tool for treating cancer.

Prior to his work with proton therapy, Suit graduated from Baylor University with his M.S. and MD, starting medical school at the age of 19. He went on to Oxford University where he studied the use of human bone marrow cellularity and its effect by radiation. He returned to the U.S. as one of a handful of radiation oncologists in the country and practiced at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. There he established fundamental principles in the management of soft tissue sarcomas using radiation and conservative surgery rather than the customary treatment of that time, amputation.

Suit moved to Boston and became the founding Chair of Radiation Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital.  He later worked at Harvard University and helped lead the treatment of some of proton therapy’s first patients. The work received funding from the National Cancer Institute in 1972, a research grant that remains active to this day. This early research led to the establishment of proton therapy as a mainstream medical modality.

Among Dr. Suit’s accomplishments are his work with limb-preserving treatment for sarcoma patients and proton treatment for spine, sacral and skull base tumors.

Dr. Suit later served as president of the American Society of Therapeutic Radiation Oncology and president of the Radiation Research Society. He has won numerous awards for his work. These include the Gold Medal of the American Society of Therapeutic Radiation Oncology and American College of Radiology, the Sloan Award for clinical research and two citings as part of “the one hundred” award from the Mass General Cancer Center. In 2017, Dr. Suit was named a Giant of Cancer Care by OneLive in the Radiation Oncology Category.

“…Being a physician and having an opportunity to treat patients that we can cure, and that couldn’t be cured otherwise without horrendous surgery, is one of the nicest experiences a human being can have,” said Suit in an interview at ASTRO’s 2017 Conference in New Orleans. “I know that now I see patients that I’ve treated 25, 28 and 29 years ago, and to see those people come back and know what was recommended for them before we treated them, and looking just splendidly is just great.”

2017: Dr. James M. Slater

Dr. James SlaterDr. James M. Slater has dedicated his entire professional life to promoting, developing, and optimizing proton therapy. He is known as the driving force behind the establishment of the world’s first hospital-based proton treatment center, which opened at Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC) in 1990. What may not be so well known, however, is the magnitude of the work he did to prepare for that event, and the work he has done since then to make proton therapy even more beneficial to the patients it serves.

When Dr. Slater was a radiation oncology resident, in the mid-1960s, he was dissatisfied and distressed with the side effects that often resulted from radiotherapy as it was then practiced. Too many patients suffered unnecessarily, in his view, from too much radiation delivered to too much normal tissue. He resolved to do what he could to reduce unnecessary radiation exposure. Because he had intended to become a physicist before turning to radiation medicine, he knew that heavy charged particles could be a potential tool for reducing side effects, and was aware of the fledgling efforts to use proton therapy in physics research laboratories.

Through the 1970s and early 1980s, Dr. Slater investigated several modalities of heavy-charged-particle radiation therapy. He gradually came to see the proton as the optimal particle for routine radiation oncology, and by the mid-1980s began advocating for a hospital-based proton treatment center. He initiated contacts with Fermilab that led to a collaboration between LLUMC and Fermilab to develop a proton synchrotron and delivery system dedicated to treating patients.

Dr. Slater’s work did not cease after the first hospital-based proton treatment center opened in 1990. In many ways it was just beginning. Recognizing that an ongoing research program is fundamental to making proton therapy as good as possible, he spearheaded efforts to increase proton therapy research. The upshot of this research resulted in the expansion of the list of anatomic sites treated with protons as well as instituting innovative protocols to use protons, such as by means of hypofractionation and combination regimens.

Perhaps the most meaningful effect of Dr. Slater’s work is the benefits it has brought to patients. Judging by the comments he has received from patients, thanking him for the care and caring they received, that commitment still applies. Patients’ gratitude is manifested in many ways, including the formation of an advocacy organization, the Brotherhood of the Balloon (BOB). In appreciation for Dr. Slater’s work, the BOB established an academic chair at LLU in his name. LLUMC itself recognized Dr. Slater’s work in 2007, when the institution re-named the proton facility as the James M. Slater, MD, Proton Treatment and Research Center.

The impact Dr. Slater has had on the field of radiation medicine has benefitted many thousands of patients. He led the way in the routine clinical use of proton radiation. In a lifetime of service, pursued to serve others and yet beneficial to his colleagues, his institution, and the entire field of radiation medicine, he has embodied the best of what it means to be a physician.

2017: Dr. James Cox

Dr. James CoxDr. James Cox learned from the masters in the development of radiation as a therapy option for cancer. He went on to become a master himself.

Dr. Cox, a professor emeritus in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer in Houston, brought proton therapy to this world-renowned institution—helping propel the modality into the mainstream. Serving in a variety of capacities at the center, he pioneered ground-breaking research demonstrating proton therapy’s effectiveness for treating a variety of cancers.

Dr. Cox entered the field of radiation oncology in its nascent stages, training under pioneers in the U.S. and Europe including Juan del Regato, Andrée Dutreix, Bernard Pierquin and Jack Maier. After his training, a stint in the military during the Vietnam War and time at Medical College of Wisconsin and Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, he landed at MD Anderson. First he served as physician in chief and then as head of the radiation oncology division, where he significantly expanded MD Anderson’s cancer treatment program and capabilities.

Introduced to protons in the late 1980s, Dr. Cox was initially not a supporter of the treatment but later stated, “I must admit my shortsightedness, that I didn’t see any particular value for proton therapy.” He ultimately recognized proton therapy as the “natural evolution” of radiation therapy and worked hard to establish a center at MD Anderson. The center began treating patients in 2006.

“Our goal from the very beginning was to try to expand proton therapy into all disease sites where protons might have some benefit,” Cox said in an interview at an ASTRO conference in 2011. “The rapid technologic advances and the way they help our patients is truly gratifying and fun, with protons being one of the most recent ones. We are only at the beginning of wedding these advances with molecular targeted agents, so there is much excitement in the future.”

2016: Bob Marckini

Bob Marckini hasn’t spent hours with his eye to a microscope, calculated a single proton therapy dosage or reviewed one patient’s CT scan. But patient advocacy has played as important role as medical research in the expansion of proton therapy—and there he has made no small contribution.

After watching his brother suffer the side effects of prostate cancer, Marckini determined to find an alternative to surgical treatment when he received his own diagnosis a few years later. A high-powered, Fortune 500 executive, he did not take the task lightly. He interviewed some 50 prostate cancer survivors and took it upon himself to learn the pros and cons of each therapy alternative.  He ultimately decided that proton beam radiation therapy was the best option for him.

He was treated with proton therapy at Loma Linda University Medical Center—the nation’s first proton therapy clinical center—and emerged its evangelist. “We were blown away,” said Marckini of his initial visit to Loma Linda in an interview with Proton Therapy Today. “And I made my decision right there to get proton therapy treatment.”

After his treatments were complete, Bob and a few fellow patients formed a group in order to stay in touch.  With Bob’s leadership that group ultimately evolved into one of the largest prostate cancer patient advocacy organizations in the world, the Brotherhood of the Balloon (or BOB). The organization provides support to prostate cancer patients around the world while raising money for cancer research. The group has grown from just a few members when it started to now over 10,000 members and continues to grow.

In addition to forming the Brotherhood of the Balloon, Bob later wrote what is still one of the most read books on treatment for prostate cancer. Bob shared that he wrote the book to remove the mystery, confusion, and fear about what to do when you are diagnosed with prostate cancer. In the book, he makes a strong case for proton therapy as a viable option to surgery and other treatment options that often result in debilitating side effects.

“I want people to be informed about Proton Therapy and not to have to go through what I did to find out about it.”

2015: Len Arzt

It is no exaggeration to call Len Arzt the spokesman for proton therapy.

Mr. Arzt served as senior officer with the Department of Energy’s energy, nuclear medicine, and radiation research programs while proton therapy was still in the commercialization stages and where he recognized its promise as a new and improved radiation treatment for cancer. He later worked at Loma Linda University where the first clinical proton therapy center was established.

In 1990, Mr. Arzt founded the National Association for Proton Therapy as a professional and advocacy organization for the up-and-coming treatment.

With the growth in the number of proton therapy centers nationwide, Mr. Arzt created the NAPT National Proton Conference in 2012. He retired as NAPT’s executive director in December, 2014.

“My biggest success was founding the NAPT,” said Arzt in an interview with DOTmed.com in 2015. “My second, equally important success, was educating thousands of patients about the advantages of proton therapy. I never looked at it as a job. It is my passion. I was able to explain and write and educate about proton therapy before people even knew about it….”