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UT Southwestern To Develop Nation's First Heavy Ion Radiation Center

Dr. Hak Choy, left, is chair and professor of radiation oncology at UT Southwestern.

A landmark type of cancer treatment has found a home in Dallas. UT Southwestern Medical Center has been charged with developing the country’s first National Center for Heavy Ion Radiation Therapy. 

As part of KERA’s Breakthroughs initiative, Dr. Hak Choy with UT Southwestern joins us to talk about what this means for North Texas.

Interview Highlights: Dr. Hak Choy

... on the nature of heavy ion radiation therapy: 

"You may have heard about radiation therapy treating cancer patients using regular X-rays, which is some degree effective but not very precise. What's more precise than conventional therapy is proton therapy that you've started hearing recently in the news in Dallas and nationally. Proton therapy has been more accurate and spares a lot of normal tissue but biologically is similar to conventional therapy. Heavy ion therapy is very accurate and spares a lot of normal tissue as well as biologically more potent therapy. It kills cancer cells three to four times more than proton or conventional therapy. Therefore, we believe it's the most effective form of cancer treatment."

... on what types of cancer heavy ion therapy treats:

"So the typical tumor type that may benefit from carbon therapy or heavy ion therapy are head and neck cancers, lung cancer, perhaps even pancreatic cancers or many other cancers that failed with conventional therapy will be beneficial with heavy ion therapy."

... on why UT Southwestern was selected for the center:

"We competed with six other centers in the United States and we have a ... talented team of investigators and scientists to put this grant together. In order to build such a facility in the United States, it requires a team of physicians, a of team physicists, and the biologists and engineers. At UT Southwestern, we have all the talent that could be put together in the last 10 years."

... on when the center will be built:

"Right now, we're at the planning stage and most likely we will start building sometime next year and it'll take a good four to five years of building ... and we anticipate treating our first patients sometime in 2020 or 2021."

Dr. Hak Choy is chair and professor of radiation oncology at UT Southwestern.

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.