By Steve Blanchard - February 10, 2023
With the announcement of its new 775-acre Global Innovation Center in Pasco County, Moffitt Cancer Center shared that its newest location will feature proton therapy. The innovative therapy is used to treat cancers while sparing healthy tissue.
A transformational philanthropic gift of $15 million from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation has helped get this proton therapy project off the ground. Moffitt plans to have its proton therapy unit functional by 2026.
"This exciting new technology allows us to extend our clinical and research expertise into proton therapy, bolstering Moffitt’s position as a leader in personalized and adaptive radiation therapy as we seek to continually provide the best possible patient outcomes."- Dr. Patrick Hwu, Moffitt President and CEO
“This exciting new technology allows us to extend our clinical and research expertise into proton therapy, bolstering Moffitt’s position as a leader in personalized and adaptive radiation therapy as we seek to continually provide the best possible patient outcomes,” said Dr. Patrick Hwu, president and CEO of Moffitt. “We expect this center to be a vital resource for the Tampa Bay community, the state, the nation and the world, enhancing care opportunities for the millions of patients served by the Moffitt network and all our multidisciplinary programs.”
Proton therapy is used to treat a growing number of cancers throughout the body, Hwu said. But it is especially impactful when treating areas where cancerous lesions are close to other vital structures. Using protons minimizes damage to healthy tissue surrounding a cancerous lesion, impacting only the targeted area.
According to Dr. Louis Harrison, chair emeritus of Moffitt’s Radiation Oncology Department, a proton becomes a cancer therapy when it’s introduced to a cyclotron.
“It’s a 50-ton piece of technology that takes the proton and accelerates it in larger and larger spirals to make it faster until it becomes a very high-speed projectile,” Harrison said. “It organizes the protons into beams that you then direct into the body of a tumor.”
The precision to which this therapy is used lessens damage to surrounding healthier tissue, Harrison said. This is especially useful when a cancerous tumor is near a vital organ.
"Imagine the spinal cord is next to the tumor, and you want to give all the radiation to this, you want to give no radiation to the spinal cord."- Dr. Louis Harrison, Chair Emeritus, Radiation Oncology Department
“Imagine the spinal cord is next to the tumor, and you want to give all the radiation to this, you want to give no radiation to the spinal cord,” Harrison said. “Proton therapy focuses all the radiation in one spot or one very specific geographic area and gives almost no radiation to the nearby organs. In those situations, proton therapy offers enormous advantages.”
Like many cancer treatments, proton therapy is evolving, and scientists, doctors and researchers are constantly perfecting its use. It’s also not a treatment used in all cases, but its evolution is opening more opportunities for patients, Harrison said.
“There are opportunities for immunotherapy and radiation to work in special ways together because of the activation of the immune system,” Harrison said. “There’s been a new development called flash, or the ability to accelerate these protons and deliver the entire treatment in two seconds. That’s just amazing. We have to understand the biology more and we have to study this more, but it seems to be the case that when you use these very high dose rates, the damage to the tumor remains, but the damage to the surrounding tissues goes down dramatically.”
Speros FL is under construction in Pasco County and will boast 140 buildings that will feature clinics, research, housing and more. Approximately 500 of the 775 acres will be developed, leaving 35 percent of the land for environmental conservation. The location off Ridge Road in Land O’Lakes will be convenient to Tampa Bay area commuters and visitors alike, Hwu said.
The new campus is scheduled to see its first patients in 2025 with the proton therapy unit opening the following year.