UF Health will start treating patients with new cancer-fighting tool

A machine called “The Proteus One” is UF Health’s latest tool for fighting cancer.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – UF Health’s Proton Therapy Institute recently completed a major part of a $39 million-dollar expansion and upgrade project which started in 2016.

The 10,000 square-foot expansion adds a fifth treatment room to the center including state-of-the-art technology. Starting Monday, doctors will start treating patients with its latest tool for fighting cancer. The 200,000-pound piece of equipment, known as Proteus ONE, is nearly three stories tall and had to be lowered into the building with a crane last fall.

Doctors say the device is the newest technology in radiotherapy.

Steven Fitzgerald was first diagnosed with a brain tumor when he just 24 years old.

“It was about the size of a golf ball at the time,” Fitzgerald told News4Jax.

Fast forward four years and two brain surgeries later he’s still trying to get rid of it for good.

Starting Monday, he will be one of the very first patients at UF Health’s Proton Therapy Institute to undergo treatment with the latest technology.

“What this technology does is allow us to offer the most precise delivery of radiation available today,” said Dr. Danny Indelicato who is the Director of the Pediatric Proton Therapy Program at UF Health.

The device produces a beam between three to eight millimeters wide which is between the size of the tip of a pencil to a Sharpie marker.

“When a proton is traveling it goes forward and hits a tumor at a specified depth in the patient and delivers a high dose of radiation on that spot and then stops. The difference between that and traditional x-rays is an x-ray will travel through the patient, hit the tumor where indicated and then just keep on traveling through the backside of the patient and onward. Proton therapy allows us to spare the patient from all that extra dose beyond the tumor,” said Dr. Indelicato.

That type of precision helps reduce collateral damage to healthy tissue, which in the end, means a lower risk of side effects and a better quality of life during and after treatment.

“That is important in any patient with cancer, but particularly children because they are developing tissue. Their brain, their eyes, their ears are particularly sensitive to the damaging effects of radiation,” said Dr. Indelicato.

Another unique feature of the new treatment room is its ambient light system. It allows patients to choose from a variety of themes including outer space, the rainforest, underwater, and more.

“That is critical because this device and the treatment itself is pretty intimidating. So when you have a young child, it is so important to put them at ease both from the comfort standpoint and a technical delivery standpoint because if they are anxious, if they are scared and they move during the treatment, you lose that precision that I was talking about that is so valuable in this treatment,” Dr. Indelicato.

Phase three of the expansion includes the installation of a dedicated pencil beam scanning nozzle. Once that phase is completed in 2021, the Institute will have the ability to treat 25% more patients.

Since opening in 2006, the Institute has treated more than 8,500 proton patients including more than 1,800 pediatric patients.

Doctors at the treatment center treat cancers of the eye, brain, lung, breast, pancreas, prostate, head and neck as well as sarcoma and lymphoma and have treated patients from 34 different countries.

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