MPRI opens its doors to cancer patients

02/10/04

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute will treat its first cancer patient this week, the culmination of seven years of hard work by Indiana University administrators and faculty, Indiana business leaders and local, state and federal government officials.

"Proton therapy is rapidly being acknowledged as a major tool in the fight against cancer," said Mark Long, President and CEO of the Indiana University Advanced Research & Technology Institute, which owns MPRI. "We have over 50 patients on our waiting list to be treated, and we expect many more in the months to come."

Proton radiotherapy is an alternative to conventional X-ray radiation therapy, both of which are used to kill cancer cells and other rogue tissue. Unlike X-rays, however, proton radiation does not do significant damage to the healthy cells around a cancerous growth. Minimizing the death of healthy tissue is especially important when the patient is a child who still has a lot of growing to do. As a federally supported experiment-in-progress, proton therapy has not yet been deemed safe or effective by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

MPRI is the only proton radiotherapy facility in the Midwest and one of only 15 such facilities in the world. Other American facilities are located in Berkeley, Calif. (treats eyes only), Loma Linda, Calif., and Boston.

While the notion of a proton radiotherapy center in Bloomington had been seriously discussed as early as 1997, MPRI's creation was mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill of 1999. U.S. congressmen Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) and Rep. John Hostettler, (R-Ind.) supported the bill, which made provisions for local economic development initiatives in Indiana and throughout the country.

Housing and Urban Development was joined by the state of Indiana, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Special Programs, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs in providing approximately $10 million in funding for the design and construction of MPRI.

In 2001, three of MPRI's four directors were hired: Allan Thornton became MPRI's first medical director, Ed Dickey its first clinical director and Niek Schreuder the institute's first medical physicist. Financial Director Herschel Workman was hired last year.

"MPRI will be a centerpiece of the life sciences effort in Indiana," Long said. "Thanks to the diligent work of the BioCrossroads group, the Bloomington community and Indiana University, we will be able to treat and cure patients from all over the world who come to MPRI."

The opening of MPRI is also a success for the staff of the Indiana University Cyclotron Facility. When it appeared that changing federal funding patterns would force IUCF's nuclear physics research to move elsewhere, IUCF administrators recognized the laboratory's continued life depended on finding a new use for its equipment and skilled people. To that end, IUCF Director John Cameron provided crucial support for the creation of a medical facility that would continue the use of the facility's high-quality proton beam.

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