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Pioneering Targeted Treatments to Fight Cancer
William F. Regine, MD, FACR, FACRO | University of Maryland School of Medicine
William F. Regine, MD, FACR, FACRO, is a pioneer in cancer-fighting innovation. A decade ago, Regine had a vision for a center of proton therapy excellence — one that would cross all academic missions and serve as a regional resource for health care providers in the mid-Atlantic region. That vision came to life in February 2016 when the $200 million Maryland Proton Treatment Center (MPTC) opened its doors.
The proton therapy at MPTC, of which Regine is executive director, is delivered as a pencil-thin beam of radiation that goes directly to the cancerous tumor with no extension beyond the targeted site. The precision of the treatment allows for a shorter duration of therapy — welcome news for patients battling cancer. It also doesn’t affect the surrounding tissue, something that happens all too often with traditional radiation.
The 110,000-square-foot facility is the first and most advanced of its kind in the Baltimore-Washington region. Two years after opening, MPTC is celebrating another impressive milestone — it just treated its 1,000th patient.
“With our unique model and vision, we set out to make the center a regional resource for cancer treatment, not just for University patients to have access,” says Regine. “We’ve really done that — made it a regional center.”
In addition to his MPTC duties, Regine is the Isadore & Fannie Schneider Foxman Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland (UM) School of Medicine. He’s developed a partnership with Maryland Proton Treatment Holdings to bolster funding; engaged Varian Medical Systems of Palo Alto, Calif., a world leader in radiation oncology technology, to provide the most advanced form of proton therapy; and enabled the School of Medicine's Department of Radiation Oncology to lead the project. He also integrated MPTC with the UM Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center and UM Medical Center/System by locating the center within the BioPark at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB).
Regine was chosen as UMB’s 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year for spearheading the state-of-the art center that saves lives while producing revenue. “MPTC is creating 175 local jobs and it is also bringing patients from around the world to Baltimore for up to six weeks of treatment," says James L. Hughes, MBA, chief enterprise and economic development officer and vice president at UMB and head of UM Ventures. “It’s an amazing win-win for the University and the public it serves. Dr. Regine should be justifiably proud.”
Under Regine’s directorship, MPTC has been recognized by the Institute for Natural Medicine as one of the 28 leading medical institutions in the nation to begin implementing naturopathic care in standard oncologic treatment. During the past two years, MPTC and Varian together have trained more than 160 medical professionals from across the U.S. and 14 other countries to deliver proton therapy, part of a larger plan to ensure that MPTC continues to be a world leader in the proton therapy community.
“By opening this training to the widest spectrum of U.S. and international participants, we are seeing new collaborative research opportunities and establishing long-term joint efforts,” says Regine. “Many physicians who have come to MPTC for this training have sent us their most challenging patients to care for while their own centers are being built.”
MPTC has been awarded more than $3 million in research funding. In addition, in 2018, it is planning a new dosimetry training program, preparing specialists who work with physicians in developing the safest and most accurate proton treatment plans for patients. Soon, MPTC also will offer deep-tissue external thermal therapy.
The external thermal therapy, or hyperthermia — in the range of 104 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit — sensitizes tumor cells to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Studies show that adding thermal therapy to standard treatments can significantly shrink tumors and improve survival for some patients. In another pioneering initiative, MPTC is the only center in the world to offer both proton therapy and external thermal therapy treatments at the same facility.
“Within the Department of Radiation Oncology and throughout our cancer center, we strive to make every available tool in the cancer-fighting toolbox available to our patients,” Regine says. “By continuing to develop a comprehensive thermal oncology program, we are giving patients more effective treatment options and therefore another reason to hope for better outcomes.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Regine already is looking ahead. In 10 years, he sees MPTC as not just a national leader but “a world leader in bringing and defining the best use of proton therapy in the care of cancer patients." He also predicts proton therapy, along with other advances in cancer therapy, eventually will eliminate the need for a scalpel in the treatment of cancer in many patients.
Regine has a history of innovation. He is co-inventor of the GammaPod, the first radiation treatment system in the world completely dedicated to early-stage breast cancer. GammaPod recently received 510(k) clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, meaning the system will soon make its way to market for the treatment of breast cancer patients.
Regine is confident it will allow patients in the near future to be able to have their breast cancer treated in one to three outpatient treatment sessions of less than 30 minutes without ever needing breast surgery. “We’ll be able to deliver high-dose radiation to a tumor while minimizing damage to normal breast tissue and, even more importantly, to major organs such as the heart and lungs,” he says.
As a department chair, principal investigator of four National Cancer Institute clinical trials, inventor, research author, and editor of textbooks like Principles and Practices of Stereotactic Radiosurgery, Regine has made an enormous impact. What is the most satisfying aspect of his work?
"Being fortunate enough to have had great partners and being surrounded by amazing staff — and family — all dedicated to making a difference in the lives of not only the cancer patients we directly see and care for, but for cancer patients around the world," he says. "Nothing I have done would have been possible without them and their support."