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IU Health Proton Therapy Center to celebrate 10 years of innovative cancer treatment

Feb. 6, 2014

The IU Health Proton Therapy Center will mark its 10th year treating patients with a celebration at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 10, at the Integrated Science and Accelerator Technology Hall at IU Bloomington. The event will feature staff members and former patients speaking about the Proton Therapy Center’s impact on health care and cancer treatment.

Originally incorporated as the Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute, or MPRI, by the IU Advanced Research and Technology Institute, or ARTI (now the IU Research and Technology Corporation, or IURTC), the IU Health Proton Therapy Center was at the time one of only three proton centers in the country.

The majority of the radiation oncologists, as well as some of the medical physicists, at the facility are faculty members of the IU School of Medicine Department of Radiation Oncology.

"Having proton therapy available in the IU Health system means that we are the only health system in the state to have immediate access to this technology," said Peter Johnstone, M.D., prrofessor of radiation oncology at the IU School of Medicine and president, CEO and medical director of the IU Health Proton Therapy Center. "We are now doing a better job of coordinating patients from our IU Health partners from around the state, including Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.”

Over the years, the center has also developed a strong referral network of hospitals across the county. 

The first patient treated by MPRI's radiation oncology team in its first treatment room was a 47-year-old woman from Kansas on Feb. 10, 2004. Two additional treatment rooms were brought online in 2007 and 2008. To date, 1,930 patients have been treated at the facility. Forty-three percent were adult patients with tumors of the head, neck, brain, or spine; 21 percent were children; and 36 percent were prostate cancer patients. While physicians at the center have provided care to patients from all over the world, 86 percent of their patients have been from the Midwest.

MPRI changed its name to IU Health Proton Therapy Center in January 2011 in concert with Clarian Health's re-branding effort as IU Health. The IU Health Proton Therapy Center remains a separate limited liability company, but with close ties to its parent organizations: IU Health and IURTC. John Kerstiens, chief operating and financial officer of the IU Health Proton Therapy Center, was a member of the original IURTC team involved in the establishment of the center.

"By repurposing the existing equipment, IU hoped to maintain the history and intellectual know-how of their nuclear physics program by supplementing their funding with direct financial support from medical treatments via MPRI and research contracts," Kerstiens said. "The proton therapy center, through its long association with the IU Cyclotron team, has played a significant role in engineering technology and clinical innovation of proton beam therapy globally."

Since the beginning, the IU Health Proton Therapy Center has taken on some of the most challenging cases. Proton therapy gives radiation oncologists the ability to create treatment plans that deliver high doses of proton radiation directly to the tumor site, while minimizing the dose to surrounding tissues and organs. This innovative treatment is often used to control the growth of inoperable tumors, recurrent tumors and localized cancers, such as prostate cancer.

The center has also helped create the foundation for medical advancements over the years as a trailblazer in photon therapy.

"From our beam-delivering devices, retractable floors and patient positioning robots, to our craniospinal treatment tables and scheduling techniques, we have set a standard of continuing clinical and technical excellence," Dr. Johnstone said. "Our small footprint in Bloomington has made a big impact worldwide."

Over the years, clinical team members have presented at medical conferences and published dozens of journal articles on proton therapy. Nationwide, there are clinical trials opening for proton therapy in treating lung and breast cancer, and the IU Health Proton Therapy Center is in the investigation stage of developing such trials.

“When we started this endeavor, there was little awareness of proton therapy,” Kerstiens said. "We have been an important leader for proton therapy as we demonstrate its effectiveness and help patients from around the world."

There are now 13 proton centers in operation in the U.S. and dozens in some stage of development.

"For us, 10 years means that we were right,” Kerstiens said. “We made the right call."

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