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Busy behind the scenes at the proton center

The Emory Proton Therapy Center will begin treating Winship patients by the end of 2018. We got a sneak peek at the massive equipment that produces this advanced treatment.

By Catherine Williams, Photography by Stephen Nowland

Ten, nine, eight, seven...

Before the end of 2018, the Emory Proton Therapy Center in midtown Atlanta will begin treating Winship patients with the world's most advanced radiation treatment for certain cancers. Right now, the equipment that will deliver proton therapy is being meticulously tested and fine-tuned.

That equipment sits behind 12-foot thick concrete walls in a "vault" that will remain closed, except for servicing, once the center opens. The Winship communications team got a sneak peek of the massive machinery that makes the pencil-beam proton technology possible: the 90-ton superconducting cyclotron; the 100-yard long vacuum tube that transports the beam and guides it into each treatment room; the 360-degree rotating gantry that adjusts the proton therapy to any angle without repositioning the patient.

Mark McDonald, Winship radiation oncologist and medical director of the Emory Proton Therapy Center, explains how the technology delivers treatment: "The cyclotron accelerates protons to nearly two-thirds the speed of light, giving them enough energy to penetrate 36 cm (or about 14 inches) into the body, to reach any tumor location.

"As the proton beam travels through the long vacuum tube, a series of magnets focus the beam and direct it to the five patient treatment rooms. The energy of the protons is then adjusted to match the needs of each patient's treatment.

"The pencil beam technology enables us to deliver the correct dose of proton radiation therapy precisely to the shape of the tumor while minimizing or avoiding radiation to healthy tissues adjacent to the tumor. Reducing or eliminating radiation to normal areas of the body can mean fewer side effects of treatment and reduced risks."

Winship radiation oncologist Dr. Mark McDonald, medical director of the Emory Proton Therapy Center in midtown Atlanta, goes behind the scenes to show some of the equipment that is used to deliver proton therapy including the state-of-the-art superconducting cyclotron.

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