Radiation oncology expands, will add Vero SBRT system

By Amanda Siegfried / Holidays 2010

Radiation oncology clinicians at UT Southwestern see more patients than any other provider in North Texas, but thanks to a physical expansion and the addition of state-of-the-art technology, the department soon will offer even more patients the most advanced radiation treatments available.

Renovations began in October to a 16,000-square-foot facility near University Hospital - St. Paul into which the department will expand to provide enhanced treatment options for patients. The building had previously housed the department before radiation oncology moved to its current home in the W.A. Monty & Tex Moncrief Radiation Oncology Building on the North Campus.

Watching the work on the new clinical space for the Department of Radiation Oncology are (from left) Dr. Frederick Hager, faculty associate; Dr. Hak Choy, Dr. Timothy Solberg and Claire Mendenhall, practice manager of radiation oncology.

“Our department is currently landlocked, so adding additional physical space, as well as additional treatment machines, will allow us to increase patient capacity,” said Dr. Hak Choy, chairman of radiation oncology.

As part of the expansion,
UT Southwestern will be the first institution in North America to install Vero SBRT, an advanced system for delivering noninvasive treatment to cancer patients using stereotactic body radiation therapy. To date, the Vero SBRT system has been installed in just a few facilities in Japan and Europe.

In partnership with Brainlab AG of Germany, the Vero device will be installed in the renovated facility in early 2011. Doctors could begin treating patients with the device next summer.

The new building will facilitate the department’s training as well as therapeutic programs. As pioneers and recognized experts in the use of SBRT, UT Southwestern faculty in radiation oncology currently provide training in the technique to numerous professionals, including physicians, medical physicists, radiation therapists, dosimetrists and others. The new facility’s design includes a dedicated visitor conference room and separate entrance for patients, which will allow medical professionals worldwide to observe the department’s operations while maintaining patient privacy.

The department’s expansion and move also will allow for the addition of two new Varian TruBeam linear accelerators, which also provide advanced radiation therapy.

The Vero SBRT system integrates many state-of-the-art radiation therapy capabilities into one machine and is designed to locate tumors and direct radiation precisely where it is needed. This noninvasive procedure delivers radiation beams to a tumor in a concentrated, precise manner, minimizing damage to healthy tissues and reducing the number of treatment sessions for patients.

SBRT typically is delivered to patients by one or more different machines, each providing its own specialized form of treatment. The Department of Radiation Oncology currently treats cancer patients using many of these advanced technologies.

“We have the reputation at UT Southwestern for delivering cutting-edge radiotherapy, and we have recognized experts, both physicians and physicists, who are capable of applying this new technology for the benefit of our patients,” Dr. Choy said.

Radiation oncology and medical physics experts at UT Southwestern will evaluate the Vero SBRT system and develop clinical guidelines for its use.

By integrating several capabilities and technologies in one machine, the Vero SBRT system will allow clinicians to treat patients with a combination of therapies without moving the patient from machine to machine, Dr. Choy said. The Vero machine also incorporates several types of imaging technologies, including X-ray, CT and fluoroscopy, which allow clinicians to locate and track tumors, even when the patient’s body moves while breathing. 

 “Vero is next-generation technology for institutions that are very progressive in their clinical approach,” said Dr. Timothy Solberg, professor of radiation oncology and director of medical physics and engineering. “The medical community and industry look to us — as a premier cancer center for research and clinical care — to pave the way for a new technology that will truly benefit patients.”

In addition to the renovated facility, radiation oncology clinicians will continue to see patients in the Moncrief building as well as in the Annette Simmons Stereotactic Treatment Center at University Hospital - Zale Lipshy. The Department of Radiation Oncology also is the primary referral center for Children’s Medical Center Dallas and oversees one of the largest pediatric brain tumor programs in the country.

 “We are very fortunate to have many different technologies at our fingertips. When our physicians determine individualized treatment plans for our patients, they are not limited by the availability of technology,” Dr. Choy said.

“Having the Vero system at UT Southwestern will provide another powerful weapon in the fight against cancer,” said Dr. James Willson, director of the Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center. “As our recent designation by the National Cancer Institute indicates, advanced cancer research and patient care is our utmost priority, and the ability to offer patients access to care that they may not be able to get elsewhere is key.”

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Dr. Choy holds the Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Distinguished Chair in Therapeutic Oncology Research. Dr. Solberg holds the Barbara Crittenden Professorship in Cancer Research. Dr. Willson holds the Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology.