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New Proton Machine Has Sat Idle Since 2011

May 30, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Pediatric Radiology
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A $20 million proton radiation therapy machine may finally get its first use on an actual patient this fall. It has sat idle at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis since its installation in November 2011.

Software glitches are getting the blame for the delay, according to a story today in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Jeffrey Bradley, MD, director of the hospital’s Kling Center for Proton Therapy, explained the problems this way:

It’s really been an integration of all those pieces that have never been put together in that way before. You don’t want to buy a first-generation product and have it not work properly.

Barnes-Jewish, an affiliated teaching hospital of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, was the first customer to take delivery of the Mevion S250. The S250 uses more compact (requiring a large room rather than a football field–size space) and less expensive ($20 million rather than $50 million or more) technology than the other 10 currently operating U.S. proton therapy machines.

Theoretically, proton beams beat other radiation sources in treating cancer because they can be targeted more precisely, thus sparing more healthy tissue. No clinical studies have so far proven, or disproven, that claim.

Dr. Bradley said Barnes-Jewish planned to use its machine to treat tumors in children, whose bodies are more vulnerable to radiation damage, as well as cancers of the head, neck, and spine in patients of all ages.

On its Web site, Mevion lists 11 “installations” of the S250, although machines have actually been delivered at only 3 of those sites. The other installations besides the one at Barnes-Jewish occurred at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, last July and the Peggy and Charles Stephenson Cancer Center in Oklahoma City this week.

Mevion Medical Systems, a 9-year-old start-up based in Littleton, Massachusetts, received Food and Drug Administration clearance for its technology last June. None of its machines are yet treating patients.

Barnes-Jewish has been doing practice runs on dummy patients. And Dr. Bradley remains enthusiastic about proton therapy. “We think it’s a big deal to have that ability here in town and in our region,” he said.

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