Proton Treatment Technology

Posted on October 18, 2010


For me, the two most rewarding aspects of healthcare design are 1) being able to learn about and design for leading medical technologies, and 2) designing projects that have a positive impact in the lives of others.

Haskell’s most technologically-advanced project, which satisfies both of the healthcare design rewards, broke ground two months ago:  the California Proton Treatment Center.

Proton therapy is a form of radiation therapy that uses atomic particles to precisely treat cancerous tumors throughout the body. Proton therapy treats certain types of cancers with fewer complications than other treatment methods like surgery, chemotherapy, and conventional radiation.  

Proton looks more promising as a growing method of cancer treatment for many reasons.  First, the population of cases it is best used for, such as prostate and pediatric cancers, is growing.  Second, the technology is precise and non-invasive. 

Part of the treatment involves making a three-dimensional model of the target tumor, then focusing the equipment on that matching mass in the body, and then blasting it with the accelerated protons to kill only the cancerous cells without the collateral damage (adjacent tissue death, elevated radiation doses and physical side effects like nausea and vomiting) of typical cancer treatment; it can be done on an out-patient basis.  

Third, it is versatile technique and can be used in conjunction with other treatments.  In addition, it is a shorter, more effective treatment period for the patient.

Finally, the design aspects of the components are simply mind-boggling.  The details behind how it works within human biology could go on for days, and the mechanics of accelerating particles on a molecular level in a building and directing them to do a medical job is equally fascinating. The scale, materials, physics, accuracy, engineering, level of control and expense of all parts is very high. Proton therapy is a growing treatment method and not yet mainstream, so it has a high ‘gee-whiz’ factor as well.

Medical technolgy can be truly amazing, and as a design-build professional I am lucky to be a part of something so unique.