Cyclotron for State’s First Proton Center Arrives at UAMS

Cyclotron for State’s First Proton Center Arrives at UAMS

By Marty Trieschmann


Completion of a $65 million expanded University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Radiation Oncology Center that will house Arkansas’ first Proton Center marked an important milestone Oct. 20 with the arrival and installation of the Proton Center’s cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator that serves as a key piece of equipment. (Kinco serves as the construction manager for this project.)

“UAMS is proud to partner with Arkansas Children’s, Baptist Health and Proton International to bring this groundbreaking technology to Arkansas,” said UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA. “Arkansans will no longer need to travel out of state to receive this innovative treatment.”

Under construction at 3900 W. Capitol Ave., the Proton Center of Arkansas will offer an advanced form of radiation treatment that uses precisely focused protons to target tumors, rather than photons used in standard X-ray radiation.

While both forms of radiation kill cancer cells, proton radiation is more effective in treating some cancers, particularly those in close vicinity of critical organs for which conventional radiation can be too toxic. Proton beams can be precisely conformed to target and release most of their energy directly into a tumor with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue. For patients, that means fewer and less severe side effects, faster recovery time and an overall better quality of life.

“The realization of proton therapy in Arkansas demonstrates our commitment to bringing the most advanced cancer treatments to Arkansas,” said Michael Birrer, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and UAMS vice chancellor. “For patients with tumors that are difficult to treat with conventional radiation, proton therapy could be life changing.”

Proton radiation is ideal for pediatric patients with certain cancers because it limits total radiation exposure to healthy, growing tissues. UAMS’ Radiation Oncology Center is the only one in the state that treats children.

“This collaboration advances health care delivery and will provide Arkansas Children’s pediatric cancer patients with proton therapy in their home state,” said Marcy Doderer, FACHE, president and CEO of Arkansas Children’s. “This is another exciting step toward state-of-the-art care close to home for the children of Arkansas.”

Including UAMS, proton centers exist in only 41 locations in the United States.

the cyclotron, a key piece of equipment for the new Proton Center of Arkansas, is lowered into position.

Workers secure the cyclotron in the underground vault where the 6 ft concrete walls protect against radiation exposure when the proton beam is operating. Image by Evan Lewis. 

The 55-ton cyclotron that powers the proton radiation beam made an eight-week cross country journey to Little Rock. The highly sophisticated apparatus, which includes the center’s 75-ton gantry, departed Brussels, Belgium, Aug. 25 and was at sea for five weeks before making land at the Port of Houston on Sept. 26. The equipment is so massive that it required a police escort and a convoy of six semi-tractor trailers to transport safely to Little Rock. Installation is expected to take 10 months.

Construction began in May 2021. The Proton Center is expected to begin treating patients in September 2023.

“This is another example of how strategic collaboration with other leading healthcare providers can improve the health of Arkansans,” said Troy Wells, president and CEO of Baptist Health. “We’re happy to be bringing this therapy to the state, and this delivery of the cyclotron puts us one step closer to providing the best cancer care right here in Arkansas.”

“The Proton International team is pleased to be working with such distinguished partners to bring proton therapy to the citizens of Arkansas and beyond. It is imperative that certain patients have access to this lifesaving technology close to home,” said Chris Chandler, CEO of Proton International.

The Radiation Oncology Center, part of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, already offers cutting-edge technologies to provide the latest radiation treatments. It will continue to provide those services, as well as new ones using the expanded capabilities of three new linear accelerators, as it relocates in 2023 to a new 52,249 square-foot building.

“With the addition of the cutting-edge proton therapy and most importantly, our compassionate and experienced clinical team, we will offer the most advanced and comprehensive care to our cancer patients in the state of Arkansas,” said Fen Xia, M.D., Ph.D., the chair of the UAMS Department of Radiation Oncology.

The three new linear accelerators — machines that customize high-energy X-rays — provide edge radiosurgery, a specialized nonsurgical technique used to destroy tumors in the brain and spine with end-to-end accuracy of less than 1 millimeter; radiotherapy with motion management, which controls radiation directed at tumors that move as patients breathe; and adaptive therapy, the most advanced form of cancer treatment, which allows clinicians to adapt to daily changes in the tumors’ shape and position over the course of treatment to better target the cancer and spare normal tissues.

The first floor of the new building will include a consultation room, a computerized tomography (CT) room, treatment rooms, clinical rooms, an exam area, a staff lounge and a conference room, as well as several physician offices in the clinical space.

The proton machine will be housed on the second floor, as will a CT room to prepare patients for proton therapy, a high-dose radiation (HDR) room, gowning rooms, recovery rooms, an anesthesia room, work rooms, eight exam rooms, a large work room for physics staff and more physician offices.

The third floor will house a cooling room for the proton machine, as well as mechanical and storage areas. It will include some extra space for future needs. An enclosed heated and cooled skywalk will connect the building to UAMS’ Parking Deck 3.