MD Anderson Medical Physicist to Join Scripps Proton Therapy Center

San Diego – Lei Dong, PhD, an accomplished medical physicist who has spent most of his career at the nation’s top-ranked University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, will join Scripps Health as chief medical physicist of the Scripps Proton Therapy Center.

Most recently, Dong served as professor and deputy chair of MD Anderson’s department of radiation physics. During his 15-year career at MD Anderson, Dong has held a variety of clinical, research and teaching roles. He is considered an internationally renowned expert in image guided radiation therapy.

Dong played an important role in the clinical implementation of proton therapy at MD Anderson when its proton treatment center opened in 2006. He has led a multidisciplinary clinical team in designing proton treatment planning and workflow procedures and has supported in-house developed software for proton therapy. Dong has extensive knowledge of the “pencil beam scanning” technology that will be used at Scripps Proton Therapy Center.

MD Anderson ranks as one of the world’s most respected centers focused on cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. It is home to one of just nine proton therapy centers currently operating in the United States. For eight of the past 10 years, including 2011, MD Anderson has ranked No. 1 in cancer care in “America’s Best Hospitals,” a survey published annually in U.S. News & World Report.

Scripps Clinic Medical Group will oversee medical services at Scripps Proton Therapy Center, and Scripps Health will provide its clinical management services. The facility is being developed by Advanced Particle Therapy (APT), LLC, of San Diego. APT has arranged the financing to build the center and purchase the proton therapy equipment from Varian Medical Systems. Additionally, APT will manage and maintain the building and equipment.

“The addition of Lei Dong marks a significant step toward establishing a world-class team at Scripps Proton Therapy Center,” said Scripps Health President and CEO Chris Van Gorder. “In addition to offering our patients the very latest advances in proton technology, this facility will also be staffed by clinical professionals who are at the top of their fields.”

Dong has written more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles on various aspects of radiation therapy and has been an investigator on several radiation-related research studies funded by the National Institutes of Health. His recent research involves proton therapy for lung cancer.

As chief medical physicist of Scripps Proton Therapy Center, Dong will be responsible for key aspects of the facility’s technical and clinical operations. This includes the clinical commissioning and acceptance testing of all proton therapy and diagnostic imaging equipment. He will also be responsible for the selection and training of the center’s staff of physicists, therapists and dosimetrists (treatment plan designers). Additionally, Dong will develop and maintain quality control and safety programs at the center. He is expected to start in his new role with Scripps in February 2012.

Dong earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering physics at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, where he also received his master’s degree in modern applied physics. He earned his doctorate degree in biomedical sciences and medical physics at the University of Texas. Dong is board certified in therapeutic radiation physics and is a fellow of the American Association of Medical Physicists.

Construction on the Scripps Proton Therapy Center began in October 2010. The 102,000-square-foot facility; which will be just the second such center west of the Rockies; will have the maximum capacity to treat approximately 2,400 patients annually. It is being built on a 7-acre site at 9730 Summers Ridge Road.

Scripps Proton Therapy Center will include five treatment rooms, three of which will include gantries, which are three-story, 360-degree rotational machines designed to deliver the therapeutic beam at the precise angle prescribed by the physician. The other two treatment rooms will have fixed-beam machines. The center will also offer MRI, CT and PET/CT imaging services in support of proton therapy, 16 patient exam rooms and offices for 14 physicians.

Installation of the center’s superconducting cyclotron; the technological driving force behind the facility; began in October 2011. Later this year, the beam transport system and other equipment will be installed in patient treatment rooms. Meanwhile, the cyclotron will undergo testing to meet various acceptance criteria under the guidance of a team of engineers, physicists, software engineers and other experts.

Patients will be able to access this treatment through a referral to a specialist credentialed by the Scripps Proton Therapy Center. Proton therapy has an established history of reimbursement by Medicare and private health care payers.

The nine existing proton therapy patient treatment centers operating in the United State are located in Loma Linda, Calif. (opened 1991); Boston, Mass. (opened 2002); Bloomington, Ind. (opened 2004); Houston, Texas (opened 2006); Jacksonville, Fla. (opened 2006); Oklahoma City, Okla. (opened 2009); Philadelphia, Penn. (opened 2010); Hampton, Va. (opened 2010); and Warrenville, Ill. (opened 2010).

Because protons can be modulated so that the majority comes to a stop inside a targeted tumor, they have substantial advantages in sparing normal organs and tissue, compared to conventional X-ray radiation. The precise delivery of proton radiation limits damage to healthy surrounding tissue and often allows for a more potent and effective dose of radiation to be used.

Varian Medical Systems will equip all treatment rooms at Scripps Proton Therapy Center with pencil beam scanning, which is the latest development in proton therapy delivery. Pencil beam scanning uses a dynamic magnetic field to steer a narrow proton beam to “paint” a radiation dose to where it is needed most – inside the targeted tumor. Combining with beam intensity modulation and treatment planning software, the pencil beam scanning system can effectively treat large tumors with complicated shapes while sparing more healthy tissues and organs.

A non-invasive treatment, proton beam therapy is usually performed on an outpatient basis and is considered most effective on solid, deep-seated tumors that are localized and have not spread to distant areas of the body.

With proton therapy, patients typically receive approximately 30 treatments during a four- to six-week period. Each treatment lasts for approximately 15 to 25 minutes, after which the patient is free to carry on with daily activities.

In addition to providing patient care, Scripps expects to be at the forefront of new and developing clinical applications as part of its proton practice and connection with other national centers.

Radiation generated by the proton therapy system will be contained by installing the equipment in a bunker with concrete up to 15 feet thick. Two completely independent monitoring systems are also being installed to ensure safe operation. A personnel protection system will monitor the safety of individuals inside the facility. Additional radiation monitors are being installed outside the facility to prevent environmental exposure.

The new facility will be affiliated with Scripps Cancer Center, a nationally recognized leader in cancer care, that provides comprehensive care at four Scripps Health hospitals and various Scripps Clinic locations. Scripps Cancer Center seeks to provide the best possible treatment and cutting-edge research trials for patients by coordinating medical expertise in the areas of clinical cancer care, community outreach and clinical, translational and basic research. Scripps is the only cancer care provider in San Diego to earn network accreditation from the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer. Scripps has also earned accreditation in radiation therapy from the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) and the American College of Radiology (ACR).

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