When Tomer was 22 months old, his parents noticed he was limping. A battery of tests he was subjected to revealed he suffers from a rare cancer of the spine, called BCOR sarcoma.
He began receiving chemotherapy and has undergone a bone marrow transplant.
Adi, Tomer's mother located another child with the same rare cancer, in Canada.
She began corresponding with the family who told her about an innovative therapy that involves highly focused radiation, which destroys the tumor with utmost precision and virtually no impact on healthy tissue.
“We flew to Canada for two months of therapy, Adi recalls, “practically uprooting the entire family and grappling with dire economic challenges.”
Adi later found out that the novel radiation system treating her son is manufactured five minutes from her town in central Israel.
“I was very upset about having to relocate an entire family to North America so that my son could receive treatment by a device manufactured a few kilometers from our home."
Tomer completed the two-month therapy and is showing impressive signs of recovery.
“He feels wonderful, with the improvement also apparent in his motor skills," Adi reported, "his gait is steadier now, and the hair is growing back again. Even his immune system is becoming stronger, despite concerns that radiation might impact the bone marrow and his immune system, which did not happen.”
In recent years, cancer has become the leading cause of death around the world, taking the lead from cardiovascular disease.
Radiation devices of today are potent: they penetrate the skin and hit the tumor. However, they hurt the healthy tissues as well, causing severe side effects.
A new proton system developed in Israel, which leverages this novel technology, is now offering hospitals a new approach to therapy with virtually no side effects and without compromising precision.
Ironically, the Israeli-made device has been installed in major hospitals worldwide, but Israeli patients are denied its benefits locally because Israel's healthcare system has not yet established the necessary facilities for proton therapy
The average number of radiotherapy sessions required for carcinogenic tumors is around 20 with each session lasting from 15 to 30 minutes.
These aggressive rays destroy healthy tissue on their way to the tumor, in addition, radiotherapy is not always effective.
The idea of using proton radiotherapy instead of the less focused x-rays was conceived in 1946. The positively charged protons are molecules found in the atom nucleus alongside the negatively charged electrons and the neutral neutrons. Scientists have discovered that proton rays enter the body in a more focused and precise manner, without harming healthy tissue, eliminating tumors with virtually no side effects.
However, generating protons is a lengthy process.
Hydrogen is placed in a container with a plasma environment with an electric tension, so the proton can be “charged” with energy and directed. In the next stage, the proton travels via an accelerator pipeline that increases its velocity so it can penetrate the body.
The original device prototype developed was manufactured using outdated technology, demanding a very large operating space.
Several such systems have been installed around the world. However, the installation cost of a single therapy room amounted to $40 million.
The devices were placed inside 3-story buildings with 5-meter-thick walls. These constraints made the devices feasible for only a few medical centers, simply because they could not be installed in conventional hospitals.
Michael Marash, Ph.D., a biologist at the Weizmann Institute started investigating protons and their impact on the human body after being involved in cancer research for many years.
In collaboration with researchers and experts around the world, Dr. Marash developed the world’s first radiation device, with smaller dimensions that can be used in any hospital.
He also started raising capital and founded P-Cure. Several months ago, P-Cure’s R&D center in Israel, started manufacturing the systems for cancer treatment centers around the globe.
The Chicago Northwestern Hospital was one of the first to use the Israeli system in its advanced proton center, which treats thousands of Americans.
“The special benefit of proton radiation is the significantly lower radiation level it emits compared with standard radiation devices,” says William Hartsell, M.D., an expert on oncological radiology at the Northwestern Hospital in Chicago, who operates the Israeli device.
“The great benefit of protons is that they stop at some point and can be directed at the right place, whereas, with X-ray, you cannot instruct the radiation where to stop. Protons can be aimed specifically at the tumor site and to stop precisely within the bounds of the tumor itself,
“I have treated children with cancer with conventional radiotherapy for 35 years and can tell that with the P-Cure system, we see fewer side effects and less delayed growth, memory or concentration. In adult patients, we can today destroy even tumors located in critical structures such as the spine or the brain stem, which would have been destroyed and irreparably damaged by ordinary radiation.”
The health ministry recently instructed the establishment of a National Proton Radiation Center to align with global healthcare systems.
Israeli hospitals have been asked to submit plans for building and running the proton center. Once a hospital is selected, it will be required to build the center within three years. However, based on previous experience with the Israeli healthcare system, Israeli patients may have to wait for at many years and continue to receive the standard radiation and its side effects, while being denied the benefits of proton therapy.
The writer was a guest of P-Cure and the Northwestern Medical Center in Chicago
First published: 17:18 , 01.12.20