The Maryland Proton Treatment Center (MPTC) has treated its first cancer patients with proton therapy at a new $200 million facility in the University of Maryland BioPark in West Baltimore. The 110,000-square-foot center, which houses a 90-ton cyclotron, is the first in the Eastern U.S. to offer ProBeam® image guided intensity-modulated proton therapy (IMPT) -- the most advanced and precise form of radiation therapy.
Unlike traditional radiation therapy, the radiation dose in proton therapy stops at the tumor site, reducing radiation dose exposure to surrounding healthy tissue, thereby reducing side effects and preventing damage to critical organs such as the heart, lungs, brain, spinal cord, liver, intestine, bladder, or rectum. The MPTC delivers the most precise form of proton therapy using a highly advanced technology called pencil beam scanning. With this technology, a proton beam precisely paints a tumor with radiation, using a pencil point beam that deposits dose layer by layer as it scans back and forth across the target area.
Proton therapy has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of localized tumors in the brain, base of the skull, head and neck area, eye, esophagus, lung, liver, breast, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract. It is also an important treatment option for children with cancer. Nearly 60 percent of cancer patients receive a course of radiation as part of their treatment plan, and traditional radiation is still an excellent option for most. However, of those patients, as many as 30 percent may benefit from proton therapy, according to William F. Regine, MD, FACR, FACRO, the center’s executive director and the Isadore & Fannie Foxman Schneider Endowed Chairman and professor of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (SOM).
“We are very pleased and excited to be able to make this form of radiation therapy available to cancer patients in the Baltimore-Washington region and beyond,” says Regine. “Proton therapy enables us to deliver a targeted dose of lifesaving radiation therapy directly to the tumor while minimizing radiation to healthy tissue. It can result in a more effective treatment for patients with fewer side effects. This technology is a powerful tool in our toolbox for fighting cancer.”
The SOM and its Department of Radiation Oncology are operating and managing the new proton treatment center, which was developed in partnership with Advanced Particle Therapy, LLC, based in San Diego, Calif., and Varian Medical Systems (NYSE:VAR), of Palo Alto, Calif., the world’s leading supplier of radiation therapy equipment. UM SOM faculty physicians will treat patients at the new center, which is affiliated with the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center (GCC), a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. “We look forward to advancing cutting-edge clinical research for our patients at the MPTC,” says Kevin J. Cullen, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Greenebaum Cancer Center. “Our goal will be to define which patients can most benefit from this technology.”
The first adult and pediatric patients undergoing treatment at the MPTC have various types of cancer and will come from Maryland and around the world. Treatment can take anywhere from one session up to eight weeks, depending on the tumor. Each appointment lasts less than an hour but the actual time it takes to deliver the proton beam is only minutes. Patients can receive proton therapy in conjunction with other cancer treatment modalities such as surgery or chemotherapy.
“Our objective at the MPTC is to provide patients with the most advanced medical care, tailored to the precise needs of each individual patient,” says Zeljko Vujaskovic, MD, PhD, professor and head of the Division of Translational Radiation Sciences in the Department of Radiation Oncology, and director of the Maryland Proton Alliance, a new SOM-led organizational framework for proton therapy. “We have developed every aspect of the center with two key elements in mind: accessibility and affordability. That’s what is most important to our patients.”
Clinical research also will be a key priority of the new center, which will offer a robust clinical trial program to all its patients to further evidence-based medicine.
The SOM has created the Maryland Proton Alliance (MPA) to help expand scientific knowledge about proton therapy. This effort brings together the multi-platform global research and education programs of the SOM with the clinical services of the MPTC. The MPA will combine the resources of the SOM and industry partner Advanced Particle Therapy, LLC, with support from other public and private stakeholders.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity,” says Vujaskovic. “As the only proton treatment center in the Baltimore-Washington region, we are in a unique position to partner with a wide range of public and private researchers, many of whom are only beginning to assess the potential value of this technology and are eager to work with a premier academic institution in these efforts.”
Patients interested in being evaluated for treatment can call 410-369-5200 to arrange a consultation.
The SOM and Maryland Proton Treatment Center, LLC broke ground on the new proton treatment center in 2012. The cyclotron, MPTC’s primary technology, arrived in 2014, and the building was completed in 2015. The center began patient consultations last fall.
When the center is operating at full capacity next year, the MPTC will employ more than 170 physicians, technicians, and support staff. At that time, officials expect to treat nearly 2,000 patients a year.