A device called the GammaPod System, invented by the University of Maryland Entrepreneur of the Year, Cedric Yu DSc, could eliminate the traditional surgery and radiation treatment ordeal of women with early-stage breast cancer, the inventor said at his award ceremony Nov. 11 at the University of Maryland BioPark.
With the GammaPod System, "We could save the whole breast so you don't need surgery," said Yu, who is the Carl M. Mansfield, MD, Endowed Professor in Radiation Oncology with the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Yu's work and leadership have contributed to the international recognition of the School's Department of Radiation Oncology. His pioneering developments in radiation treatment technology have improved the quality and efficiency of cancer treatments using radiation throughout the world.
In 2006, Yu patented a dedicated breast radiation therapy method, now called the GammaPod System, which was developed with the help of $3.5 million in Small Business Innovation Research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
With support from the University's Office of Research and Development (ORD), he founded Xcision Medical Systems, LLC, to pursue the development of the high-precision, noninvasive system of treating early-stage breast cancer. Xcision, which is based in Maryland, is seeking GammaPod approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
"I was surprised and happy to be named Entrepreneur of the Year, not just for myself but happy that the University encourages entrepreneurship and recognizes the importance of theoretical research that converts into new knowledge and new products," Yu said.
The GammaPod therapy will require only two or three concentrated radiation treatments of beams from thousands of directions precisely targeted to a tumor inside a breast, said Yu. It is a radical departure from conventional breast cancer treatment.
He said the good news today about treating breast cancer is that most cases are diagnosed early and that surgery and a long process of radiation treatments can be successful therapy. However, some cancer cells are often left outside of the tumor site and the highest radiation sometimes doesn't reach the tumor.
"I started to think about the GammaPod concept in 1996," he said. Yu took his concept to William Regine, MD, chair of the School's Department of Radiation Oncology, who had envisioned a similar strategy for treating cancers of the body.
Regine, co-inventor, said at the ceremony, "When Cedric showed me his concept, it was clear he had come up with a Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) specific for early-stage breast cancer that had the potential to be paradigm changing. It's a solution that could eventually lead to the use of SBRT alone, that is, no surgery, thus, leaving women with no need of a scar to remind them of their breast cancer."
Yu explained, "We can deliver a high enough dose to [neutralize] the tumor. Only two or three radiation treatments will be needed. The traditional three-month ordeal can be shortened to three treatments only. You don't need surgery. You don't need standard radiation. No needle, knife, pain, anesthesia, and no scar."
Yu cautioned that "to change the practice [of treating breast cancer] is not easy. It will take money, time, support of the University, hard work, but we will do it right. I hope by the end of next year we will have it approved." He added, "The idea is really different and these [GammaPods] will be designed differently for different sites."
University of Maryland President Jay A. Perman, MD, said, "Cedric Yu embodies what our mission 'real-world thinking and worldwide reach' is really about. He makes that expression work."
"Dr. Yu's had a remarkable journey," E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, dean of the School of Medicine, told a standing-room-only audience at the BioPark. "In his teenage years in his native China, he spent 4 1/2 years at a farm during Chairman Mao Tse-tung's cultural revolution. While on that farm in his spare time, he studied anatomy and physiology and read The Barefoot Doctor. In his spare time!"
Yu earned an electrical engineering degree in China in 1982 and then moved to the U.S. where he obtained an MS degree in electrical engineering and a PhD in medical physics, both from Washington University in St. Louis.
With the help of the University's ORD and NIH, Yu's dream is becoming a reality. The first prototype system was installed at the University of Maryland Medical Center in May 2010.
Says James Hughes, MBA, the University's vice president of research and development, "In addition to being an internationally renowned researcher, Dr. Yu has the entrepreneurial drive to bring desperately needed technology to patients."