Mayo Clinic To Build North America's First Carbon Ion Therapy Unit In Jacksonville

Nov 19, 2019

Jacksonville’s reputation as one of the world’s cancer treatment destinations is continuing to grow with word that Mayo Clinic and Hitachi will build what they say is North America’s first carbon ion therapy treatment facility.

"Carbon ion therapy has the capability of killing cancer cells which are resistant to traditional radiation therapy. This capability combined with the ability to precisely deposit this treatment into the resistant-tumor while minimizing the dose to adjacent normal tissue make it ideal to treat cancerous tumors in sensitive parts of the body," said Dr. Nadia Laack, chair of the Department of Radiology Oncology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, in an email to WJCT News.

Carbon ion therapy dates back to a U.S. discovery in the 1970s, according to Mayo Clinic, but the technology is available at only a handful of centers in Asia and Europe.

Dr. Steve Buskirk is the chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Mayo Clinic's Jacksonville Campus. He told WJCT News that Mayo will be working closely with Hitachi, which makes the equipment, to gain FDA approval through research.

“There are some tumors, perhaps of the skull base, some salivary gland tumors, some liver tumors, some sarcomas, a soft tissue sarcoma… but all those need further scientific study,” said Buskirk. There will be a large number of scientific investigators working on the research at Mayo Clinic's locations in Jacksonville, Rochester, Minn. and Arizona. 

Mayo will also be collaborating with a board of scientific advisors, including the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Kent Thielen is a Mayo Clinic vice president and CEO of its Florida campus. He said the research and processes needed to gain FDA approval will take several years.

"Typically, once an appliction is submitted for FDA approval, it takes rougly six to nine months to receive an answer from the FDA," said Thielen. 

The cancer therapy treatment will be part of Mayo’s $233 million oncology facility that was announced in June. The new 140,000-square-foot facility will be located near the Mangurian Building and is expected to be completed in late 2023.

"We will begin doing some of the preliminary investigative work even while we're moving forward with construction, and once construction is completed, we'll move quickly into acquiring additional data and scientific detail," said Thielen. 

The overall oncology facility will also include proton beam therapy, which allows for radiation to be precisely directed, resulting in lower doses of radiation to healthy tissue.

While proton therapy centers are relatively rare across the country, Jacksonville already has two.

UF Health Jacksonville and the Ackerman Cancer Center also have proton beams, making Jacksonville the only city in the country to currently have two of the centers, according to the National Association for Proton Therapy, which has published a nationwide map of the centers.

Mayo and Hitachi have reached an agreement in principle to build the carbon ion treatment facility.

“We are confident through our carbon experience, digital technology and the existing partnership with Mayo Clinic that we will continue to contribute to cancer treatment and increase our customers' social value in the United States and across the globe,” said Keiji Kojima, executive vice president and executive officer at Hitachi, in a news release.

The carbon ion announcement is the latest in a series of cancer treatment options available on the First Coat.

Last year, the MD Anderson Cancer Center – based in Houston – opened a $184 million Jacksonville campus on the Southbank in conjunction with Baptist Health.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.