By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia
Educators, elected officials and medical leaders gathered Tuesday next to a vacant, dusty lot in West Baltimore to celebrate the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s $200 million plan to go big by going small.
The school ceremonially broke ground on the Maryland Proton Treatment Center, a facility that will use subatomic particles to provide cutting-edge therapy for cancer patients.
“It’s the best right now in radiation therapy,” said Dr. Jay Perman, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
When it opens in 2014, UMB’s center will be among just a handful of facilities country offering such care. The treatment uses a stream of protons —they, along with neutrons and electrons, are the building blocks of atoms — to deliver radiation more precisely than traditional radiation treatments.
That ability to focus the radiation will allow for the treatment of tumors in more sensitive areas with less damage to the healthy tissue that surrounds them.
“It’s relatively recent introduction, but it’s a very revolutionary technology,” said Dr. E. Albert Reece, dean of the medical school.
“We anticipate patients will be flocking to us,” he said. “This project will replace blocks of vacant housing in West Baltimore with a thriving new facility that will save lives, create hundreds of jobs, and bring more than $200 million in private investment.”
That investment will come from Advanced Particle Therapy. The San Diego company has partnered with the medical school on the 110,000-square-foot center in the UMB Biopark, which will be staffed by physicians from the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center team.
There are only 11 such facilities in the country, and 30 in the world. The closest to Baltimore is in Philadelphia.
“Right across from here,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley, “there are going to be a lot of families bringing all the hope they have in this world to this healing technology.”
The university expects the center to treat 2,000 patients a year, have a staff of 175 and be an additional catalyst for development around the Biopark on Baltimore Street.
“It’ll mean hundreds of jobs in building the facility,” Perman said. “It’ll be 2,000 patients a year who are served and all that they bring in economic [impact]. There’s work for our staff, for our faculty, there are research opportunities. It is an economic engine.”
It will also be a source of hope for cancer patients, said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who spoke about the cancer treatment both of her parents received from the medical school.
“I’m so blessed, and we are all … that we have University of Maryland here,” she said. “In Baltimore, we’re not playing for second … We’re here to be leaders in technology, in research, in medical care.”