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St. Jude proton radiation therapy center set to be first in the world

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Two years ago, St. Jude began work on the world's first proton radiation therapy center dedicated solely to children. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) Two years ago, St. Jude began work on the world's first proton radiation therapy center dedicated solely to children. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
Fundraisers like the St. Jude Dream Home a house of hope for St. Jude patients. Without annual giving a Proton Therapy Center would not be possible. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) Fundraisers like the St. Jude Dream Home a house of hope for St. Jude patients. Without annual giving a Proton Therapy Center would not be possible. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC) - Two years ago, St. Jude began work on the world's first proton radiation therapy center dedicated solely to children. The starting cost: $200 million.

The benefits are priceless, and none of it would be possible without the help of generous Mid-Southerners.

To most of us, it looks like any other construction project with exposed beams and unfinished surfaces, heavy equipment and workers on lifts.

But to Dr. Jonathan Farr, it is the realization of a dream.

"What brought me to St. Jude is really the dream of applying this ideal technology of proton therapy to children's cancer," said Farr.

Dr. Farr relocated from Germany to Memphis to lead an unprecedented effort in childhood cancer treatment. And soon, within brightly colored halls, the possibilities will be endless.

"We're installing a new proton therapy system here at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. It is the first and only proton therapy system in the world specifically for the treatment of childhood cancer," added Farr.

Proton therapy has long been used on adults. It is an alternative to traditional radiation, the most common way to eradicate cancer cells. It is technology that also damages healthy tissue as it enters and exits the body.

"That's basically the concept is we focus the x-ray beam down to the cancer to treat it," noted Farr. "Any radiation that's not delivered directly to the tumor itself is undesirable."

Farr says St. Jude's pencil beam proton therapy goes straight to the target area.

"The protons come into the tumor, kill the cancer cells and stop there. They actually remain there within the tissue itself. Our mission is really to increase the cure rate. To cure more cancer and childhood diseases. While we're doing that we also know we don't want our patients to have effects from their treatment later on in life."

So why is the hospital not treating children this way?

"You wonder why don't we have more. Isn't it a good idea? Of course it's a great idea to treat cancer with proton therapy. The problem is, it's just so expensive to build and install and maintain that it doesn't fit easily into the concept with existing insurances."

Farr says what sets St. Jude apart, is its connection to donors. He calls fundraisers like the St. Jude Dream Home a house of hope for St. Jude patients. Without annual giving a Proton Therapy Center would not be possible.

"We're really looking at the support from offerings such as the Dream Home Giveaway that provide such support to this type of endeavor, so I think that's why we'll see the only Proton Therapy Center installed here in Memphis, Tennessee. I really don't expect to see another one, maybe ever."

Another beam of hope on the Memphis campus of St. Jude is that you can help further research and save lives by purchasing a ticket for the dream home giveaway.

The house and more than a dozen other prizes are up for grabs during our giveaway Sunday afternoon. To purchase a ticket, call 1-800-224-6681 or stop by any Regions Bank, Ashley Furniture Home Store, Stash or the Oakland Chamber of Commerce.

You can also follow the link to buy a ticket: http://www.stjude.org/dhmemphis.

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