Penn celebrates dedication of Roberts Proton Therapy Center

Penn Mediciine professors in front of proton therapy gantry
Penn Medicine's Stephen M. Hahn and James Metz stand next to one of the structures in the Roberts Proton Therapy Center.

Penn Medicine celebrated the dedication of the Roberts Proton Therapy Center on Nov. 23, by honoring the many donors and staff members who helped make the cutting-edge $140 million radiation therapy facility a reality.

The Center, part of the Abramson Cancer Center, is the largest and most advanced proton therapy facility in the world, with the capacity to treat about 3,000 patients a year. Housed within the Department of Radiation Oncology, the Center is located underground, where a 220-ton cyclotron generates beams of protons into five treatment rooms. Four of the rooms feature three-story gantries, steel structures that can rotate 360 degrees to administer treatment. The fifth room features what is called a "fixed beam."

Proton therapy uses a beam of protons moving at very high speeds—about 100,000 miles per second, near the speed of light—to destroy the DNA of cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying. Unlike conventional radiation, proton therapy can be used to treat tumors that are hard to reach or are close to vital organs by more accurately targeting the tumors while causing less damage to healthy tissue. Proton therapy is especially well suited for treating cancers in the brain, head, neck, eye, esophagus and spinal cord.  

Partnerships with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the U.S. Department of Defense will also allow pediatric cancer patients and U.S. military service members and their family members to be treated at the Center.

“The Roberts Proton Therapy Center represents a quantum leap forward in our capability to save lives and improve life," said Penn President Amy Gutmann. "By harnessing the power of protons, our physicians, clinicians and scientists will revolutionize cancer care and drive the next phase of health-care innovation.”

The Center will be ready to begin treating patients by mid-winter. In addition to providing state-of-the-art cancer treatment, the Roberts Center also will advance medical science through research, serving as a leader in clinical trials that will provide new protocols to increase and enhance the effectiveness of this groundbreaking form of cancer therapy.

The Center was financed in part by a generous gift of $15 million from the Roberts family. Penn alumnus Ralph J. Roberts is the founder of Comcast Corporation.

Originally published on November 24, 2009