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Monday, July 23, 2007

Hampton breaking ground on $200M cancer center

The financing for it isn't complete, but Hampton University has lined up enough support for a planned $200 million cancer center to break ground, according to the school's president.

The center will be open by 2011, President William Harvey vowed in an interview this week, despite the school's failure so far to win the $20 million in state and federal funding he has sought for the project.

Harvey said major banks are advising the university and that bonds will be issued to complete the financing.

In the meantime, Hampton has been lining up support from local health providers and complet ing a contract with Armada Hoffler to build the facility. The private, historically black school plans a groundbreaking ceremony Monday, with construction set to start in August.

The facility will provide a radiation-type treatment that offers the promise of more effectively destroying diseased tissue with fewer side effects.

"We're bringing this to Virginia because there's such a tremendous need," said Harvey, noting that one of its special ties will be treating prostate cancer, which disproportionately kills black men.

There are five such centers in the country: California, Texas, Indiana, Florida and Massachusetts. Another is under construction at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Ultimately, Hampton University projects that it will treat 125 patients a day at the facility.

"There are some patients for whom protons are the only answer," said Dr. Christopher Sinesi, president of Oncology Associates of Virginia, who has agreed to be the center's medical director. He said he has had patients travel thousands of miles for such treatment. "It's such a momentous thing for Hampton Roads to have this.

The therapy differs from conventional radiation because of the way that protons interact with body tissues, said Cynthia Keppel, a Hampton physics professor and cancer researcher who is the scientific and technical director of the center. Protons are subatomic particles that essentially travel harmlessly until they reach a peak and release their energy. Using a highly specialized and expensive machine called a cyclotron, scientists can control when and where the protons will release their energy - in this case, against a cancerous tumor.

Keppel said the treatment can be especially valuable in lung and pediatric cancer cases.

"There's nothing experimental about it. It's very well known," said Sinesi, a radiation oncologist. "The problem with it has been the cost and complexity of starting up these centers."

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