Taking Proton Therapy Research to the Next Level

The Cincinnati Children’s Proton Therapy Center officially opened its $24 million research gantry in 2018, after 18 months of providing patient care. The gantry is the only one in the world exclusively dedicated to proton therapy research.

“This center brings together physician researchers, radiation oncologists, physicists and engineers who all have different perspectives and ideas—it is an amazing opportunity for us to think outside the box so that we can create better outcomes for our patients,” says John Perentesis, MD, FAAP, director of the Division of Oncology at Cincinnati Children’s. “I consider proton therapy to be one of four new, high-impact pillars in cancer research—the others include genetically targeted treatments, genome editing and immune therapies. Advances in all four of these pillars have the potential to dramatically change the way we treat cancer in the next five to 10 years. We’ve never had such a confluence of amazing technologies available at the same time.”

Researchers at the Proton Therapy Center have been collecting preliminary data in collaboration with the Heidelberg Ion Therapy Center in Germany for the past several years. Based on this work, a group of scientists that includes Perentesis, Anthony Mascia, PhD, DABR; Mathieu Sertorio, PhD; Ralph Vatner, MD, PhD; Susanne Wells, PhD; and Yi Zheng, PhD, received a Cincinnati Children’s Academic and Research Committee grant and two CancerFree KIDS grants in 2018 to explore the cellular response of lymphoma and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma to proton therapy. And Perentesis recently led the creation of an industrial partnership with Varian Medical Systems, winning a team award of $1.3 million to study new ways of proton dose delivery to further decrease normal tissue toxicity while treating tumors.

The novel research at the Proton Therapy Center spans multiple divisions and departments across Cincinnati Children’s and the University of Cincinnati, and represents one of the strongest cross-campus research collaborations in the history of the university. “Our collaborative teams are in an ideal position to study the biology of proton beam irradiation, with the goal of developing new immune and targeted anticancer drug treatment combinations with proton, predicting outcomes with genomics and advancing proton therapy to avoid complications,” Perentesis explains.

In May 2018, Cincinnati Children’s, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati Medical Center co-hosted the 57th International Particle Therapy Co-Operative Group Conference in downtown Cincinnati. There, Vatner was awarded the best biology research abstract, the second year in a row that a Cincinnati Children’s researcher received this honor.

“This is an exciting time in oncology research,” Perentesis says. “By working collaboratively with other investigators around the country and the world, we can propel proton therapy research to the next level and change the outcome for children and young adults with cancer.”

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