ProNova technology offers medical and economic advance

The Daily Times
Opinion: Our Voice
Sunday, June 7, 2015

There were more than a few VIPs among the 500 or so people who assembled Tuesday in the expansive 30,000-square-foot room where ProvNova Solutions will test and manufacture next generation of cancer-fighting proton-therapy devices.

Government and business officials were well-represented at the grand opening of the inaugural tenant at the Pellissippi Place research and development park located where Old Knoxville Highway and Pellissippi Parkway (I-140) connect.

Also in attendance was a celebrity of sorts who exemplified the sizable scope of the project that promises to produce the gold-standard for treating cancers where it is critical to minimize radiation damage to healthy tissue and organs when zapping cancerous cells.

ProNova is developing, building and testing smaller, lower-cost more technologically advanced systems, including the superconducting gantry that directs the proton beam to its tumor target.
Thanks to this innovative and proprietary technology, the equipment is half the size and one-tenth the weight of technology currently on the market — making ProNova’s product easier to transport and install, while costing less than competing systems.

That doesn’t mean the ProNova SC360 that will be built in Blount County is small. That’s why a Barbie doll was on hand to make a point. The SC360’s most efficient design — featuring superconducting magnet technology — uses one cyclotron connected to two treatment gantries.

For testing purposes, ProNova is utilizing a scaled-down gantry built at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It was constructed in similar fashion to the Ford Cobra that Oak Ridge researchers built to demonstrate the amazing capability of 3-D manufacturing technology.

The carbon-fiber impregnated plastic plates are thicker in the gantry than in the car, of course. The gantry in place for testing at ProNova is about 4 feet in diameter, and just one-sixth the size of the gantry that will be built by the world’s largest rapid prototyping machine for use in cancer treatment.

To illustrate how much larger the actual gantry will be than the test model, Barbie was enlisted to model the difference. The diminutive doll was placed in front of the test-model gantry. The actual-size gantry will be proportional in size to a human as the test gantry is to the little doll.

Point made. This thing is going to be big. Even so, ProNova’s SC360 represents a significant reduction in size and weight over currently available proton systems for fighting cancer.
The technology is happening now in Blount County, and the world is noticing. On hand for the grand opening were customers from Germany and the Netherlands and investors from China.
The Provision Center for Proton Therapy in Knoxville is site No. 1 for the ProNova system. The second installation will be at the Scott Hamilton Proton Center in Nashville in 2016.
The third installation will be in Tianjin, China, in 2016. The fourth at Oxford University, United Kingdom, in 2017.

There also is a deal in place for an installation in Singapore. In addition, in partnership with the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation, Provision plans to build seven more proton therapy centers across the United States in addition to the first location in Nashville.

Bonus: ProNova will boost the local and regional economy by creating high-paying, skilled jobs and supporting other area businesses as part of the company’s production supply chain.
Next up: Physicians, health insurers, governments and employers need to educate themselves about the advantages of next-generation proton therapy that precisely targets tumors, while sparing healthy tissue.

That’ll happen. The only question is how soon. This is cutting-edge stuff happening here and now.

Members of the Tennessee Legislature would do well to get up to speed on this technology that has so much to offer the state’s economy and the world’s health.