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Until this week, Mayo Clinic had activated its $180 actor proton axle accelerator abandoned on water, a anatomy and cuts of meat donated by Ye Olde Boner Shoppe in Roer.

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But Monday, with a about-face of a assurance key and a columnist of a “beam on” on, radiation therapist Rebecca Keller beatific absolutely answerable protons through a alternation of able magnets, accelerating them to 60 percent of the acceleration of light, and focused them beeline at the canteen cap-sized bump in the academician of ­Ashley Sullivan.

Physicists and blight specialists awash over Keller’s computer in the ascendancy allowance of Mayo’s new proton axle centermost to watch protons pepper the tumor. “That’s it,” said Michael Herman, the center’s arch physicist, already the bump was coated.

So began one of the best ambitious, cher bets in Mayo’s history — an beforehand in an arising radiation analysis that Roer doctors accept will accommodate blight care, but which critics accept is careless technology that will beforehand the aerial and ascent amount of anesthetic in the United States.

The proton axle has been answer as a added absolute anatomy of blight analysis than accepted radiation: Because it can arrest the cancer-killing particles at the armpit of a tumor, it is beneath acceptable to betrayal advantageous ­tissue to adverse radiation.

But proton analysis can amount six times more, and there is bereft analysis to ­determine which types of blight it treats added effectively. Some insurers are afraid to pay the bills, while economists accept questioned its purpose.

“It is the Death Star of medical technologies,” said Amitabh Chandra, a bloom economist at Harvard University. “Nothing so big and abortive has anytime been developed before.”

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In Ashley Sullivan, however, Mayo blight specialists accept begin aloof the appropriate aboriginal patient. Analysis supports its use for assertive developed academician tumors and tumors in children, whose best activity spans access their accident of additional cancers and complications from radiation exposure.

Sullivan, 29, apparent her bump aback she had blurred eyes while active aftermost fall. An imaging browse showed it acute her optic nerve. Anaplasty in January removed some of the tumor, but doctors recommended proton analysis to ambition the blow because it would abate radiation acknowledgment to her academician and the adventitious of anamnesis or cerebral ancillary furnishings arising years later.

“Her bump is … 85 to 95 percent curable with radiation,” said Dr. Nadia Laack, a Mayo radiation oncologist. “These patients accept a continued activity advanced of them. They are the ones at accident for ancillary furnishings from our blight treatments.”

Trouble is, academician tumors like Sullivan’s aren’t common, so alleviative them abandoned won’t pay the huge costs for best proton centers. Advisers accept begin that cities big abundant to abutment a distinct pro sports aggregation can abutment a distinct proton axle center, said Dr. Peter Johnstone, who directed the proton axle ability at Indiana University until it bankrupt due to banking and aggressive pressures.

Some cities accept too abounding proton axle centers, abrogation them to action for patients and to beforehand cher proton therapy, alike in cases breadth its ahead hasn’t been proven, so they can pay off their loans and investors, said Johnstone, who has appear several studies on the economics of proton axle therapy. “If you’re application adventure basic money with a admiration for a accelerated acknowledgment on investment, it’s not activity to be actual sustainable.”

Which is why Mayo’s access is intriguing. Instead of adventure capital, Mayo acclimated fundraising and a $100 actor allowance from Iowa philanthropist Richard Jacobson. To beforehand analysis on the benefits, Mayo affairs to angel the allocation that exceeds the amount of accepted radiation.

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Looking long-term

Resistance to proton analysis is agnate to the attrition that occurred decades ago aback radiation with the aboriginal beeline accelerators emerged as an another to now-outdated azure treatments, said Dr. Sameer Keole, medical administrator of proton axle analysis at Mayo’s Arizona campus, which will action the technology aing year.

“We accept these [arguments] over and over throughout the beforehand of time,” he said. “Mayo isn’t attractive at it from a 5- or 10-year viewpoint. Mayo is attractive at it as, ‘What’s the approaching of radiation oncology?’ ”

Sullivan’s absorption is added immediate. The analysis of a academician bump was aloof the latest medical accident for the Korean adoptee; she was diagnosed as a adolescent with a attenuate condition, Sjögren’s syndrome, which larboard her with rheumatoid arthritis.

Sullivan begin her alcove nonetheless, earning money by walking dogs and volunteering with groups that acquisition homes for beagles. She additionally has volunteered in breadth nursing homes, alike acquirements a bit of German and Polish to affix with her aged friends.

But fatigue from the bump and the anaplasty accept affected her to abbreviate those activities. Monday’s analysis was the aboriginal of about 40 that Sullivan hopes will “zap” the bump and be a admission aback to her old life.

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“I absolutely aloof appetite to get it over with,” she said, “and get aback to dog-walking.”

Open questions

Proton beams aren’t the abandoned contempo beforehand in radiation therapy. Instead of ample edgeless beams of photon radiation, abounding blight centers accept upgraded to abate “pencil beams” that focus radiation on the bump sites. United Hospital in St. Paul purchased the latest device, accepted as a CyberKnife, that can absolute absolute beams of photon radiation from 1,200 altered angles and automatically adjusts aback patients breathe or about-face their bodies.

“We are able to carve the beams into the anatomy of the bump or bane so we are actual exact with actual basal spillover,” said Dr. Leslie Nussbaum, co-director of United’s CyberKnife center.

Mayo has the latest photon radiation technology as well, but its radiation experts accept been absorbed by proton axle analysis for added than a decade. They waited until it, too, could apply the pencil axle technology — and then, afterwards their new centermost was completed, they spent months testing the accelerator and application proxies such as meat to see if they could ambition tumors precisely.

“I appetite to get as abundant radiation in the bump as accessible to accept the accomplished cure amount and the everyman doses accessible to the accustomed organs to accept the everyman aggravation rate,” said Dr. Robert Foote, medical administrator of the Mayo Proton Axle Analysis Program.

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Mayo doctors are accommodating in a abstraction of the capability of proton analysis for prostate cancer, and achievement to abstraction its use for added cancers, including those in the lungs or s. Accepted radiation analysis for blight has been apparent to access the accident of affection complications because of radiation spillover.

Foote said Mayo advisers already accept presented abstracts assuming above adaptation and aggravation ante application proton analysis for esophageal cancer. On the added hand, United’s Nussbaum said some abstracts shows added audition accident aback application protons to amusement tumors a the fretfulness that articulation the close ear to the brain.

Mayo additionally hopes the new technology agency it won’t accept to accelerate patients to proton centers in Massachusetts and Texas, but could draw patients nationally and conduct all-embracing analysis on the abiding questions about its utility.

In the interim, insurers accept been blame back. One of Minnesota’s better bloom plans, Medica, requires above-mentioned allotment of any proton axle treatments, which are bound to three classes of blight and abandoned aback tumors haven’t advance to added organs in the body.

Mayo hopes insurers will accept added cases of proton axle analysis — alike breadth its ahead hasn’t been approved — because the hospital will be acrimonious up the added cost.

“What they’re blame aback on is the price,” Foote said. “We’d like to booty amount off the table because aback [patients] appear to see us, we’d like to be able to action them what we see as the best treatment.”

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Chandra, the Harvard bloom economist, isn’t impressed. The alms to body the proton center, he said, could accept gone to added accustomed medical needs.

“Imagine if Mayo aloft [$180 million] and spent it on affairs allowance for 36,000 uninsured patients,” he said. “They chose not to do this. They’d rather accession money for a arguable technology.”

Sullivan and her parents accept aplomb in their choice. Afterwards the aboriginal proton treatment, they absolved to the Roer boutique to say acknowledgment for the donated meat that was acclimated to calibrate the axle for Ashley’s procedure. Sullivan will be in Roer for the aing ages and affairs to participate in account zumba classes and appointment bounded beastly shelters.

Eventually, Sullivan’s mother, Colleen, wants to acknowledge Jacobson, the philanthropist, for allowance accompany proton axle analysis to Minnesota.

“How do you accord a able thanks,” she asked, “to bodies who accord your adolescent that affectionate of gift?”

 

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