SALT LAKE CITY — Today, medical experts, patients, academic faculty, builders and community leaders converged on the Huntsman Cancer Institute campus to celebrate the beginning of a new era in the fight against cancer by cutting the ribbon on a highly-specialized new treatment center.
The Orrin G. Hatch Proton Therapy Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute is a new high-tech facility that makes it possible for patients to receive highly precise radiation treatment that penetrates cancerous tissue without damaging nearby healthy tissue. It is the first proton therapy facility of its kind in the intermountain west, making it possible for families in the region to get advanced, life-saving care much closer to home.
Speaking to those gathered for the celebration, Huntsman Cancer Institute CEO Mary Beckerle described “the collaboration and the teamwork that was critical for bringing this amazing facility to Utah.”
“Literally, we had to move a mountain in order to put this facility behind me on the hillside here. It required a major commitment, a major financial commitment, exceptionally sophisticated technology, and incredible expertise in physics and in medicine,” Beckerle said. “We were just so thrilled that that the team came together and leaned in to create this magnificent new resource for patients and their families in Utah and our region.”
Beckerle thanked construction project partners, including Jacobsen Construction, Architectural Nexus, Mevion Medical Systems, and university facilities personnel, for making it possible “to place this new facility within the context of our existing Huntsman Cancer Institute campus in a way that looks like it was always here.”
“We’re incredibly grateful for all of that work,” she said.
As the general contractor on the project, Jacobsen began work at the Proton Therapy Center in September 2018. Project details called for highly complex logistics planning with subcontractors to ensure the safe and precise delivery of enormous proton accelerator equipment, and careful planning to ensure minimal disruptions to the surrounding Huntsman Cancer Institute campus. The project went on to win recognition as the Health Care Project of the Year (for projects under $50 Million) by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Utah.
The Proton Therapy Center was completed in November 2020, and the facility has been helping patients for several months. Nine-year-old Noah and 23-year-old Taylor, two of the Proton Therapy Center’s first patients, joined in on the ceremonious cutting of the ribbon. Taylor, a brain tumor patient, described in a video shown at the event how proton therapy’s precise, narrow beam makes it possible for her to receive treatment for her tumor without damaging her nearby pituitary gland.
“It could really mess up my hormones and my fertility to have traditional radiation therapy,” Taylor said. “But with the proton therapy, being able to go in and target the tumor and have a less than one percent chance of affecting that pituitary gland — it’s literally my posterity on the line. … It could mean the difference between having children, having a family, and not.”
The center is named after Senator Orrin Hatch, who represented Utah for 42 years in Congress and frequently led the charge in improving opportunities for world-class cancer research and treatment in Utah. Proton therapy represents a major advancement in doctors’ ability to aggressively fight cancer while preserving patients’ quality of life. It is especially helpful for patients with cancer in or near important internal structures, such as the brain, that need to be protected from radiation. Childhood cancer patients, who especially require protection from radiation affecting their healthy tissues, also benefit greatly from highly precise proton therapy. The addition of proton therapy further strengthens Huntsman Cancer Institute’s well-known capabilities as a critically important cancer fighting resource in the intermountain west.
“This day is even more special to consider the challenges of the past year. Our teams did not let even an unprecedent unprecedented global pandemic slow them down. Congratulations to all of them for a job well done,” said Dr. Michael Good, interim president of the University of Utah. “This is a great example of what the extraordinary teams at the University of Utah and the Huntsman Cancer Institute do. They never lost sight of the fact that patients were counting on this, even during a pandemic — particularly cancer patients who do not have the luxury of time. The Huntsman Cancer Institute is the gold standard for cancer care, and it is a critical resource for the citizens of our community. With the addition of this new tool in our cancer treatment tool belt, we reiterate and recommit ourselves to eradicating this awful disease.”