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News Release

Contact: Melanie Magara, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-1681

June 19, 2008

Groundbreaking celebration heralds coming
of advanced new cancer treatment to Chicago area

West Chicago, Ill. — Cancer survivors and local and state officials celebrated along with Northern Illinois University at an official groundbreaking held today for the $159 million Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center.

The event was held at the center’s future site at 777 Discovery Drive in the DuPage National Technology Park, about 30 miles west of Chicago.

The state-of-the-art Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center will offer proton therapy, an advanced and highly effective form of radiation therapy currently unavailable in Illinois. The noninvasive therapy is the treatment of choice for certain pediatric and adult cancers.

Northern Illinois University has played a leading role in development of plans for the center, which is scheduled to begin treating patients in 2010.

“Two years from now, patients at the Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center will benefit not only from advanced cancer treatment, but also from the many proton therapy-specific nursing, education and allied health programs under development at NIU,” said NIU President John G. Peters.

“This project illustrates the power of cross-disciplinary research and multi-institutional partnerships,” he added. “Combining the strengths of well-respected programs in physics, the health sciences and regional outreach, NIU has been the catalyst for groundbreaking discussions and agreements between and among dozens of clinical, regulatory and business partners throughout the Chicagoland region.”

Construction of the 110,000-square-foot facility will commence on 15 acres in the DuPage National Technology Park. The park is contiguous to the northern boundary of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, which assisted in building and assembling the country's first hospital-based proton treatment system for Loma Linda University Medical Center in California. Its proton therapy center opened in 1990.

The non-profit Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center will boast space for research, training and education purposes, four separate treatment rooms and two 190-ton gantries, each able to rotate around the patient, delivering proton beams at optimal angles. The proton beam will be generated by a high-tech particle accelerator, housed in a facility the size of a football field.

“Today we celebrate the birth of a new resource where professionals from many different fields will advance science, create new jobs and improve quality of life for countless individuals,” said Cherilyn G. Murer, chair of the NIU Board of Trustees. “The Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center will save lives, but it will also make new discoveries, train new medical professionals, and provide countless new opportunities for those who have dedicated their lives to the healing arts.”

The proton therapy center will initially employ about 50 professionals. The number of employees is expected to triple when the center is at full operations, with a capacity to treat as many as 1,500 patients a year.

Proton therapy derives advantages from its precision. Conventional radiation often radiates healthy tissue in its path and surrounding the tumor site. In contrast, doctors can deposit protons within tumors while sparing adjacent healthy tissues and organs. Patients experience minimal side effects.

“We can aim proton beams and shape them in all three dimensions to within millimeters of accuracy, allowing us to treat tumors with far greater precision and far greater savings to normal tissue than with conventional therapy,” said Dr. Allan Thornton, medical director of the Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute in Bloomington, Ind., and medical adviser to the Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center.

The unique characteristics of proton therapy make it a preferred treatment option in many cancers, including pediatric varieties, where traditional radiation can damage developing healthy tissue. The new 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.

While proton therapy is covered by numerous insurance plans, including Medicare, there are only five full-scale proton centers operating nationwide. Patients often travel hundreds or thousands of miles to receive the treatment.

“Right now, patients from Illinois who are in need of this treatment must travel out of state for extended periods of time,” said John Lewis, the newly named executive director of the Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center (see related press release). “The new center will bring this tremendous resource to cancer patients in Illinois and nearby states, and it will place Chicagoland at the cutting edge of proton therapy delivery services, training and education.”

The Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center, LLC, is a spin-off company of the Northern Illinois Research Foundation.

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