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New form of proton therapy for cancer starts trial in Jerusalem

Advanced radiation treatment uses innovative chair that can move patient 260 degrees to precisely target tunors with its high-energy beams

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

The new facility for proton therapy at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem; a patient in a chair wears a plastic mask that covers the face to protect it from radiation (Courtesy of Hadassah Medical Center)
The new facility for proton therapy at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem; a patient in a chair wears a plastic mask that covers the face to protect it from radiation (Courtesy of Hadassah Medical Center)

A new form of proton therapy to treat cancer patients has started a clinical trial for the first time in Israel, providing dozens of people access without having to fly abroad at a high personal expense.

The therapy is in demand in many countries, as its high-energy beams of protons — subatomic particles found in the nucleus of every atom — are credited with targeting some tumors more precisely than X-ray radiation.

However, the massive size of proton therapy machines and high cost of treatment has held back its adoption, and only 1 in 100 hospitals worldwide offer it.

Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem has now started a clinical trial for an Israeli-made form of proton therapy. The system made by company P-Cure and developed with Hadassah’s help takes an unusual approach to proton therapy, having the patient seated in a moving chair which moves them to enable the beams to be unleashed with precision at the cancer site.

“Taking advantage of P-Cure’s new concept of a moving chair will allow pinpointed treatment from 360 degrees,” Prof. Aharon Popovitzer, chairman of oncology at Hadassah, told The Times of Israel.

He expects the method to boost patients’ chances of effective treatment and reduce toxicity that results from protons being delivered to parts of the body that aren’t cancerous. “It’s a way of delivering the best treatment while minimizing toxicity,” Popovitzer said.

A woman receiving traditional radiation therapy. Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation treatment for cancer that uses protons instead of x-rays. (iStock)

Dr. Michael Marash, CEO of P-Cure, commented: “Patients will benefit from focused treatment without injury to the body’s nearby healthy organs and without side effects. The system knows how to identify and focus on the growth itself and identify changes within, even little ones, toward which treatment is focused.”

Popovitzer said that on a practical level, the fact that P-Cure’s solution is about a third of the size of average proton therapy machines has made it far easier for Hadassah to accommodate it and could help to address a key obstacle to wider adoption, which holds back hospitals that simply don’t have space for big new installations.

“Machines can take up entire hospital rooms, and reducing their size can help significantly,” he said. “We’re hoping that this is a way to make proton therapy more accessible.”

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