UT Southwestern Medical Center is one of two institutions in the country to receive a $1 million federal planning grant to develop the country’s first research facility for ion radiation therapy.
The money comes from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health. UTSW is a key partner in planning and developing the first U.S. Center for Heavy Ion Radiation Therapy Research, which will study ways to advance particle beam therapies for the treatment of cancer.
“Heavy Ion Radiation Therapy represents the next quantum leap forward in cancer care. It is not available in the U.S., and our location would be the first of its kind in the country,” said Dr. Hak Choy, holder of The Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Distinguished Chair in Therapeutic Oncology Research at UT Southwestern. “This is the ultimate radiation tool for the cancer patient; however, the U.S. is still catching up with the rest of the world.”
UT Southwestern also plans to build a $200 million to $250 million campus facility to house the national center. It needs funding—a mix of federal, state, and private money for construction and “ongoing research.” The school says it has a potential economic impact of $600 million for the state and will create 130 new “high-level” jobs. The university hopes to complete this by 2021.
Both UT Southwestern and the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center won awards to help build separate consortiums to lead the research.
UTSW will oversee a group of Texas researchers from institutions that includes the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, the Baylor College of Medicine, the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, the UT Medical Branch at Galveston, and NASA.
The Office of Science and Technology at the White House announced the grants Wednesday afternoon. There are currently 14 proton therapy centers in the United States. None include carbon ion therapy, a form of treatment that directs heavier particles to target and kill any cancerous tissue. The eight that currently exist are located in Japan, Germany, Italy, and China.
“The planned center would serve as a research adjunct to an independently created and funded, sustainable clinical facility for particle beam radiation therapy,” the White House says.
The heavy ion therapy means the proton beam would ideally be able to reach tumors located deeper inside the patient. Also, the nuclei of carbon ions can be up to four times more potent than the weaker, more commonly used photons. But that means it needs a larger machine to be administered. In conjunction with the National Cancer Institutes grants, the Department of Energy also awarded money to produce the necessary—expensive and complex—machinery.
“I commend the National Cancer Institute for their generous support of UT Southwestern and its development of this groundbreaking program,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “Support from partners like NCI will ensure that Texas universities are at the forefront of research and innovation, and becoming home to the first Heavy Ion Radiation Therapy Research Center in the United States is a No. 1 ranking Texas could be truly proud of.”