Rendering of Atrium Health's new advanced radiation therapy facility

News, Your Health | 2 years ago

Atrium Health Breaks Ground on Game-Changing Radiation Therapy Facility, Expected to Open in 2023

The facility will bring two new radiation treatments to the area for the first time.


Atrium Health is breaking ground on a state-of-the-art facility that will bring new treatment options to patients in the region. The center, located on its midtown campus, will house two advanced radiation therapies that will be offered in the Charlotte area for the very first time.

Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute (LCI) is already an established leader in radiation therapy, and this center will continue to advance that work. The two treatments that are new to the region are proton beam therapy, a form of highly precise radiation therapy, and gamma knife radiosurgery, a non-invasive treatment for brain lesions. In this facility, specialists will collaborate from across Atrium Health – Levine Cancer Institute, Levine Children’s, Atrium Health Neurosciences Institute and more – to treat complex tumors in children and adults. Not only will this facility bring these treatments to local patients, it will also become a destination site for patients around the region.

“As Atrium Health has expanded, we’ve always looked for the next technology to grow, and this was it,” says Kevin Platé, senior vice president of Levine Cancer Institute. “It’ll be around the corner from the medical school and the Innovation District, so this is a great time to have this technology available.”

The facility will open in 2023. This will be a center that not only offers innovative radiation treatments, but also the considerate, efficient, patient-centered care that is the hallmark of Atrium Health.

Proton Beam Therapy

Standard radiation therapy is effective and has seen great innovations in recent decades, but it can deliver radiation to healthy areas around the tumor it targets. When a tumor grows adjacent to or close to other critical areas radiation can pose a risk to nearby critical tissue. That’s why proton beam therapy can offer large advantages in these complex tumors, as well as tumors in children where any radiation to growing normal tissues can cause significant issues.

Proton beam therapy targets radiation precisely to the tumor, leaving the areas around it unharmed. It’s been used clinically for more than 60 years and has been proven to be safe and effective and to improve quality of life. It’s not widely available, however, due to the expertise, expense and space it requires. When Atrium Health’s new building opens, it will be the only center between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta that offers proton beam therapy.

“Now that people live longer past their cancer diagnoses, we seek to minimize long-term effects of cancer treatments, and proton beam therapy is one way we’ll be able to do this for both pediatric and adult patients,” says Chad Jacobsen, MD, director of Pediatric Neuro-Oncology and Pediatric Developmental Therapeutics at Levine Children’s Cancer & Blood Disorders.  “This technology offers the best chance at a cure, while minimizing side effects that can be seen with traditional therapies, so we are thrilled our patients can now receive this life-changing treatment locally."

Previously, local patients who needed proton beam therapy would travel to other cities, such as Atlanta, Boston or Cincinnati, for up to a month and a half of treatments. Now, these patients can receive this treatment here in Charlotte. For people who live in the region, it will offer a closer destination site for their care.

“We're going to be able to allow our patients to live as normal a life as they possibly can while they're going through this therapy,” Dr. Jacobsen says.

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

The center will also bring gamma knife radiosurgery to Charlotte. This unique technology treats brain lesions that are difficult to treat through surgery or radiation due to their location – for example, when a lesion is deep in the brain, or close to arteries or nerves or is otherwise inaccessible. Like proton therapy, gamma knife radiosurgery delivers targeted radiation with extreme precision, leaving very few effects on the tissue around it. It is done entirely as an outpatient procedure and doesn’t even require an incision or general anesthesia, and it’s treated more than a million people around the world. While it can treat other conditions of the brain, gamma knife radiosurgery’s most common use is for brain metastases. Sometimes, the radiosurgery is used on its own, and other times, it precedes a traditional surgery.

“Levine Cancer Institute has pioneered a technique of using radiation prior to the surgical resection of brain metastases with excellent outcomes. The gamma knife will allow us to do this even more, which is a huge positive,” says Stuart Burri, MD, Chairman of Radiation Oncology at Levine Cancer Institute. “We are definitely at the forefront of advancing brain metastasis management in the country and this will be another tool to help our patients with complex lesions of the brain.”

Levine Cancer Institute and Neurosciences Institute will collaborate closely to create an efficient and thorough patient experience throughout the gamma knife radiosurgery process – as they have for years. 

“We’ve been committed to this collaboration for more than 20 years,” says Anthony Asher, MD, FAANS, FACS, the president of Neurosciences Institute and surgical director of the Neuro-Oncology Program at Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute. “Our standard of care is to treat every patient from a multidisciplinary perspective to make sure that all reasonable options are considered.”

The shared space will also foster continued research collaboration. Dr. Burri and Dr. Asher will be co-principal investigators on a national cooperative group clinical trial that will open next year that will advance the use of gamma knife radiosurgery. The trial will enroll patients from across the country.

“Patients with cancer are living significantly longer than they did during prior periods. A decade ago, patients with brain lesions would’ve received whole-brain radiation,” says Tomain Murphy, assistant vice president of radiation oncology at Levine Cancer Institute. “Thought leaders like Dr. Burri and Dr. Asher have led the charge to better manage patients’ quality of life with solutions that are much more conducive to fitting into their day-to-day lives.”

Putting Patients First

While technology and innovation are crucial to this center, the building and its processes have been designed to prioritize the patient experience. Patients don’t need to travel to different buildings or facilities; here, the care comes to them in one location. Multidisciplinary teams communicate closely to provide seamless care. Supportive oncology will be integrated to offer additional support. Even the waiting rooms have been intentionally designed to make patients and their families feel as comfortable as possible. All of this builds upon the values that have led to Levine Cancer Institute being the only cancer center in the United States to earn Gold Certification for Excellence in Person-Centered Care by Planetree International

Levine Cancer Institute understands the stress that patients can experience when needing treatment – especially for families with children. Staff works across teams with Levine Children’s and with each individual patient to ease that stress for patients of all ages who will travel here for their care, striving to make it an efficient and streamlined experience. That help might involve scheduling appointments close together to minimize time away, arranging travel logistics, or offering meals to patients and their families. This work is about caring for people, not just treating tumors.

“The team has designed this whole facility to prioritize the teamwork behind patient care,” says Sarah Bender, Atrium Health assistant vice president of neurosurgery & spine. “I’m excited about the experiences that patients will have here. It’s multidisciplinary, it’s collaborative, and it allows everyone to come together to prioritize our patients and the care they need.” 

Constructing the Building, and Building the Team

During construction of the facility, radiation oncologists will receive specialized training in proton beam therapy and Gamma Knife radiosurgery. In addition, Atrium Health will hire specialized physicists to join the staff in this work. The center is expected to open in 2023, with Gamma Knife radiosurgery beginning mid-year and proton beam therapy beginning later that year. 

These new technologies will build upon the momentum that Atrium Health has already created to become a leading cancer center in the region, connecting patients at both Levine Cancer Institute and Levine Children’s with cutting-edge treatments and conducting research to find the therapies of tomorrow.

“Levine Children’s has a very robust developmental therapeutics program where we offer new therapies that aren’t available at many institutions in the Carolinas. In addition, we have phase one and phase two studies that are not available at other centers in the region,” says Dr. Jacobsen. “With all of that expertise, this is the natural direction to advance our program to continue to offer new treatment opportunities for our patients.”