Indiana's MPRI Growing: Adds Patients, Equipment, Staff

June 10, 2007
By Bob Zaltsberg 331-4364 |

Proton therapy center growing
Innovative cancer institute adds patients, equipment, staff

BLOOMINGTON — Fifteen to 17 patients a day are being treated at the Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute on Bloomington’s north side, and officials there expect that number to increase nearly fivefold over the next 18 months or so.

Installation and FDA clearance for a second line of proton therapy, and the anticipated readiness of a third, fuels the expectations of an increased number of patients.

Proton therapy is used to treat difficult cancerous tumors because the proton beam is more precise than conventional radiation therapy. Proton beams can be stopped at the back edge of the tumor instead of traveling through it and damaging healthy tissues and organs.

“It’s the ability to stop the beam that makes the difference,” explains MPRI medical director Dr. Allan Thornton.

Another difference is the complexity of the cases that can be treated by proton therapy. “Half of our cases are ultra complex, unique cases,” Thornton said last week. “We are distinguished by our knowledge of these unique cases.”

Since conversion of the Indiana University Cyclotron from a research-only facility to the medical use as MPRI, 320 patients have been treated. Nearly all of them since the first in February 2004 — 315 — have been treated with a fixed beam technology in which the patient is moved around on a gurney so the proton beam can be aimed precisely.

In recent weeks, five patients have been treated by a new “gantry” system with an industrial robot for positioning, allowing for the direction of the beam to be altered. A second gantry is expected to be used to treat patients by the beginning of 2008, according to MPRI President and CEO Jim Buher.

When all three proton therapy rooms are in use at full capacity, 75 to 80 patients a day could be treated.

“That’s all we want to see,” Buher said, noting MPRI has been established as a specialty clinic and not a place to treat a high number of more routine procedures.

“We want to do some of the most difficult cases,” he said. “Some of our patients, no one else will treat them.”

Of the tumors treated so far at MPRI, 25 percent have involved the brain; 20 percent the head, neck or spinal cord; 30 percent the prostate. Twenty percent have involved various cancers in children, and 5 percent are classified as “other.”

Twenty-eight people currently are on a waiting list for treatment, Buher said.

Employment at MPRI has grown to 43, and more hirings are in the works. Two physicians — Thornton and Markus Fitzek, who started in April — are now on staff. One other physician works on Mondays, another on Fridays, and a third is being hired jointly with Indiana University. There are three medical physicists on the staff, and a fourth will start the first of August. Hiring of a fifth is planned.

Ten radiation therapists are on staff and Buher said he anticipates hiring four more soon.

MPRI was the third radiotherapy institute opened in the United States, after one at Massachusetts General Hospital and one at the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California. Two more have opened since MPRI, at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute. Thornton said MPRI is partnering with a group in Chicago to create a proton therapy center at Northern Illinois University.

In addition, ProCure, a Bloomington company considered a spin-off of MPRI, plans to train people in its soon-to-be-completed facility on North Walnut Street to work at proton therapy centers it opens in other locations. Its first venture in Oklahoma City is scheduled to open in 2009.

ProCure’s president and chairman is John Cameron, who led the initial lobbying, funding and construction efforts for MPRI as director of the IU Cyclotron.


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