HU Awarded Grant To Improve Proton Radiotherapy Cancer Treatment

Hampton, Va. – The Hampton University physics department recently received a grant from Varian Medical Systems, Inc. to measure cell response to proton radiation in order to improve proton radiotherapy treatment planning. Varian will provide the department with a treatment planning system and a grant to cover the costs of the first measurements.

In August 2007, HU began construction on the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute (HUPTI), a $225 million effort located in the Hampton Roads Center South business park in Hampton. Approximately 2,000 patients will be treated each year starting in 2010. At 98,000 square feet, HUPTI has been named the largest proton therapy facility in the world.

“Proton therapy utilizes a cutting edge technology in the fight against cancer, with only a handful of centers in the U.S. currently able to offer this type of treatment,” said Armin Langenegger, product manager for treatment planning systems at Varian. “We anticipate that the research at Hampton University will greatly enhance our understanding of the biological effectiveness of this treatment approach and has the potential to greatly improve treatment delivery and accuracy.”

Proton beam therapy is a type of radiation that can precisely target tumors while sparing surrounding tissue, which means it has the potential to cause fewer side effects than traditional radiation, in the treatment of some forms of cancer. The proposed biological treatment planning approach will facilitate even more precise dose delivery, which should improve the sparing of healthy tissue and increase the likelihood of killing of the tumor.

“Biological treatment planning will make a drastic improvement in the cancer treatment process,” said Dr. Cynthia Keppel, scientific and technical director for HUPTI. “Proton beam treatment is already great, and this will make it even better.”

Keppel is leading the treatment planning research and is working with HU physics researcher Dr. Vahagn Nazaryan and HU adjunct professor Dr. Richard Britten, who is also faculty at the Eastern Virginia Medical School. Keppel and her team will build a jig, the instrument which the beam goes through. Parts of the jig will consist of radiation dose measurement devices, cell holding areas, and differing materials to simulate human tissue.

These three researchers, along with students, will travel to Jacksonville, Florida this semester to work on site at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute. While at this center, they will collect fundamental measurements by isolating tumor cells, providing radiation to those cells, measuring the effects of radiation, and enabling proteomic and other analyses of those tumors. When they get back from Florida, they will analyze the data and develop a biological model that will be presented to Varian.

“In addition to offering the excellent clinical benefits of proton beam treatment, our center is planned to be a showcase for advanced research,” said Keppel. Hampton will be the first proton beam center to perform biological treatment planning, a capability Keppel would like to open the center with.

Varian Medical Systems is the world’s leading manufacturer of medical products for treating cancer and other medical conditions with radiotherapy, brachytherapy, and radiosurgery, as well as a premier supplier of X-ray tubes and digital detectors for imaging in medical, scientific, and industrial applications.

Sidenote – Students that are part of the joint Hampton University / Eastern Virginia Medical School medical physics graduate program are currently being trained in part on two Varian 2100C accelerators with MLC and two Varian VariSeed 6.7 TPS.

For additional information, please contact Sarita L. Scott at 757-727-5620 or