It’s like NASA landed in Franklin: Proton-therapy center nears completion

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After nearly two years of construction, Provision CARES Proton Therapy Nashville is nearing completion of its $100 million cancer-treatment center — minus some areas of the roof.

That’s because crews still need to lower a 28-foot-diameter gantry — a structure about the size of an above-ground pool that rotates around a patient during therapy, allowing treatment from different angles —into place at the 45,000-square-foot facility.

It will be the second center for Knoxville-based Provision CARES, which provides proton-radiation treatment for cancer patients. The Franklin campus will also include a 72,000-square-foot medical office building at the cost of $18 million. Both buildings are being funded by tax-exempt bonds issued by the Williamson County Industrial Development Board and are expected to be completed in the summer of 2018.

The gantry, however, is relatively light lifting over at the 11-acre site. In July, a 220-ton particle accelerator, almost the same weight as the Statue of Liberty, was delivered to the facility. Rod Manning, service and maintenance manager at Provision CARES subsidiary ProNova Solutions, said the massive piece of equipment, called a cyclotron, was lowered into place by a 440-ton crane, the largest in Tennessee.

Photo by Joel Stinnett

“It’s like NASA landed in Franklin,” Manning said.

Proton therapy delivers a high dose of radiation through a beam and, according to Provision CARES Director of Medical Physics Marc Blakey, has fewer side effects than traditional X-ray radiation.

Blakey said he can plot exactly where cancer is in the body and attack it while sparing surrounding tissue.

“The beam enters and only goes as deep as the tumor. It doesn’t exit the body,”
Blakey said. “This allows for a higher dose because we can avoid critical structures.”

The cyclotron acts as the engine in the process, producing beams of protons into one of three gantries enclosed with two-meter thick doors made of lead-reinforced concrete. Most treatments only last a few minutes; Blakey said the center could facilitate up to 90 patients a day.

The two-story building will also house work areas for Gilda’s Club of Tennessee and Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation. Hamilton is on the board at Provision CARES and will have an office at the center.

Tara Mullaney, vice president at Provision CARES, said the inside of the building is designed to feel like a hotel more than a medical facility. Each dressing room will be outfitted with TVs and will have their own themes. The waiting room will a kids play area and a large bell to be rung every time a patient completes the entirety of their treatment.

“Cancer patients are going through enough so we want to make them as comfortable as possible,” Mullaney said. “They are coming here every day so they get to know the staff and feel welcomed.”

Mullaney said that while proton treatment isn’t new — the first center opened in the 1990s — it’s still not widely known. She said that’s because the initial investment for equipment is so high and not all insurance plans cover the therapy, where treatment costs about $2,000 per visit.

The word, however, is spreading, Mullaney said. The Franklin facility will be the 26th proton-treatment center in the nation, up from 13 five years ago, and Provision CARES has plans to build three more centers, she said. Those will be in Orlando, New Orleans and China.

Mullaney said ProNova, a Provision subsidiary, is also designing ways to decrease the size of equipment, therefore making it less expensive to access proton treatment.

“We are always thinking of ways to get better,” Mullaney said. “Franklin costs considerably less than the center in Knoxville because of the reduction in size of equipment and smaller footprint.”

“It’s like NASA landed in Franklin:’ Proton-therapy center nears completion.” Joel Stinnett, Nashville Business Journal