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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Hampton cancer center lauded as a "jewel"

The new Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute doesn't open until next month, but already area leaders are lauding it as a jewel.

On a recent tour U.S. Sen. Mark Warner marveled at the treatment that will be offered at the 98,000 square foot, $225 million center.

The center piece of the building is a three-story 90-ton machine which will be used to precisely target and kill cancer cells.

Cynthia Keppel, the institute's scientific and technical director, showed them the main control room, where technicians will work to monitor the dose of the proton beam to cancer patients.

There are five treatment rooms and the capacity to treat 170 patients per day, Keppel said. Unlike traditional radiation therapy, proton therapy directly target tumors, doesn't affect surrounding healthy tissue, and minimizes side effects, she added.

Typical treatments are given once a day for 39 days and take about 20 minutes each, she added. Actual radiation time is a minute.

HU has been awarded $9.4 million in federal funds for the center since 2008 for equipment, research and high-level staff, said Bill Thomas, associate vice president of governmental affairs.

In April, Gov. Bob McDonnell restored $510,000 in state aid for HU that was originally cut by state legislators. Restoring that amount for a full $1 million over two years honors the commonwealth's commitment to support the institute and the resulting economic benefit it brings to Hampton Roads, he said.

Warner applauded HU President William R. Harvey for his "audacity" to have the grand vision of creating the center. Seeing it go from idea to construction to patient treatment within six years is amazing, Warner said, adding that the institute adds one more jewel to the crown of HU.

The center is the first of its kind in Virginia and one of eight in the United States.

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