Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

An artist's rendering of the proton therapy center
An artist's rendering of the proton therapy center

To obtain print-quality JPEGs, contact the Office of Public Affairs at (815) 753-1681 or e-mail

News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

December 7, 2006

NIU moves ahead on cancer treatment facility

DeKalb, Ill. — Northern Illinois University is moving forward with its plan to build a world-class cancer treatment and research center that will deliver state-of-the-art proton therapy to patients from across the Midwest.

The NIU Board of Trustees today approved a request to go out for bid on equipment for the facility, which will be located in suburban West Chicago.

“Once established, the center will provide cutting-edge treatment and conduct important research on cancer therapy, building on Illinois ’ past investments in accelerator technology,” NIU President John Peters said.

“The proton therapy center will eventually treat as many as 1,500 patients annually,” NIU Provost Raymond Alden added. “This is an important project for NIU and for the people of our region, and we are working diligently to keep it on schedule.”

Trustees authorized the university to seek proposals for the technical and medical infrastructure needed for proton acceleration, beam transport and beam delivery to patients. The equipment will include the accelerator, gantries, nozzles, beam transport and delivery systems, patient positioners and imagers, alignment systems and computerized control systems.

“As you can imagine, the equipment is highly technical,” said NIU Presidential Science Adviser Gerald Blazey, who has been working on the request for proposals. “There are two types of accelerator systems for proton therapy that are available on the commercial market. Only about five or six companies in the world make this equipment.”

The university in October announced that it was receiving $3.3 million in federal funding to begin formal planning for a non-profit proton therapy center at the DuPage National Technology Park. The park is contiguous to the northern boundary of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, which in the mid-1980s developed the first U.S.-based proton-therapy accelerator for use in cancer treatment.

Proton therapy is the most precise and advanced form of radiation treatment available today, according to the National Association for Proton Therapy (NAPT). Conventional radiation often radiates healthy tissue in its path and surrounding the tumor site. In contrast, proton therapy more efficiently targets the tumor, thus leaving intact the surrounding healthy tissue and organs. Patients experience minimal side effects, if any.

Although the treatment is covered by numerous insurance plans, including Medicare, there are only five proton therapy facilities operating in the United States. The therapy is currently unavailable in Illinois.

The NIU center will deliver proton therapy for the treatment of pediatric, prostate and head/neck cancers, as well as for treatment of patients suffering from certain ophthalmologic disorders. The facility also will advance research while educating and training health professionals in the growing field of particle therapy.

The university now is seeking state and federal funds to cover roughly half of the estimated $120 million project cost. Other funding is expected from private equity financing and private sector partners.

Once funding is secured, the university will break ground in 2008 on a facility with four separate treatment rooms. The center complex is expected to total about 100,000 square feet of space on 13 acres of tech-park land. Plans call for the center to begin providing treatments in 2011.