Leaders from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Baptist Health, and Arkansas Children’s on Wednesday (Sept. 27) celebrated the opening of the Proton Center of Arkansas, the state’s first proton therapy center and the 43rd in the United States.
Located on the UAMS campus, the Proton Center is a partnership between the three healthcare entities.
It occupies 9,000 square feet on the second floor of the three-story, $65 million UAMS Radiation Oncology Center. That 58,000-square-foot center, which opened in July, offers both proton therapy and traditional photon therapy.
The Proton Center will see its first patients Friday. It can provide treatments to as many as 40 patients a day, according to a UAMS press release. Treatments typically take 30 minutes.
Previously, the closest places offering proton therapy were in Memphis and Shreveport.
Proton therapy uses precisely focused, high-energy beams that can target hard-to-reach areas without affecting the surrounding tissues. Dr. Zhong Su, professor and director of physics in the UAMS Department of Radiation Oncology, said the therapy removes electrons from hydrogen atoms and then targets millions of hydrogen protons at the cancer, in the process directing a lesser dose to surrounding organs.
At the grand opening, UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said the therapy can be particularly effective for cancers of the brain, spine, head and neck, lung, prostate and colon, and also some breast cancers.
Patterson said the treatment is ideal for pediatric patients because it limits radiation exposure suffered by healthy, growing tissue. The Radiation Oncology Center is the only one in the state that treats children.
In her remarks, Marcy Doderer, president and CEO of Arkansas Children’s, said, “This building, these services, this team means that every and any child in Arkansas who needs this kind of care can do so within less than a four-hour drive. To date, kids needing this level of care have left our state, and sometimes that has disrupted the family, separating the family, separating spouses and siblings while a child goes and lives in Cincinnati or Houston or somewhere else in order to get this level of care.”
Dr. Michael Birrer, director of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, said the Proton Center will attract patients and medical professionals from elsewhere.
The Proton Center features a 55-ton cyclotron, a particle accelerator that powers the proton beam. It traveled from Belgium across the Atlantic Ocean to the Port of Houston and then continued via six semi-tractor trailers to Little Rock.
The proton treatment room allows patients to choose a room theme and color that are digitally displayed on the walls and ceiling as a way to make them more comfortable.