Pioneering Cancer Treatment Center Named After Founder

Loma Linda University Medical Center's Proton Treatment Center offers proton beam therapy to cancer patients. Patients are treated either on a table by one of the three gantries, which can be rotated 360 degrees to aim the beam with pinpoint accuracy, or in a chair by the fixed beam outlet. [Photos courtesy of the James Slater Proton Treatment Center]Source: Adventist News Network

[June 6, 2007] After nearly 17 years and almost 12,000 successfully treated patients, the Proton Treatment Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC), has been renamed for its developer Dr. James Slater. The LLUMC board made the decision on May 23 and the facility will officially be known as the James Slater Proton Treatment Center.

"I couldn't have been more surprised," Dr. Slater told ANN upon hearing the news. Dr. Slater, a pioneer in the field of proton therapy for treating cancer, started pushing for a proton treatment center at LLUMC in the 1970s. Back then he was being trained to do radiation treatment.

But he said, "I didn't like seeing the side effects patients received from x-rays. I knew there were better things out there but only in physics laboratories."

A member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Dr. Slater said, "It was clear to me in my connection with religion, God and all of the components to go with that, that doing better for the patient was the only way to go. It was my obligation to go in and make things better than they were. So I went to work to make things better and there is no question in my mind that God expects that from us."

Starting in 1970, Dr. Slater visited various facilities to study treatments using proton, the helium ion, the negative pi meson (pion) and other particles. Studies and collaboration with various labs continued into the 1980s. Dr. Slater ultimately settled on proton treatment. Unlike conventional x-ray radiation, proton therapy treats cancerous tumors without harming surrounding healthy tissue.

"I went with protons because they were highly controllable and I knew that protons would not be harsh for the patients like all these other heavier particles are. So it became my first choice," Dr. Slater recalled.

The idea for treating patients using proton therapy was not new. Back in 1946, Robert R. Wilson, Ph.D., who later became director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, had predicted that protons could be used to treat patients.

Despite LLUMCs initial skepticism surrounding the cost of the equipment and the effectiveness of the treatment, Dr. Slater persisted. He was determined to place the facility in the Adventist-owned hospital.

"Loma Linda gave me the opportunity to go to medical school and I wanted to do something for them," he said. "That is my fundamental reason for bringing it here. I felt it would be good for the school."

Treatments at the center began in October 1990 and since then there have been 11,842 patients. Patients who have received treatment at the center have been overall ecstatic at the results. The Brotherhood of the Balloon ( www.protonbob.com/proton-treatment-homepage.asp), an organization consisting of nearly 3,000 men who have received proton treatment for prostate cancer, is one such group. On the 15th anniversary of the Proton Treatment Center in 2005, the Brotherhood of the Balloon presented a book of 100 testimonials to Dr. Slater.

Experts at the center specialize in proton therapy for lung, brain, and prostate cancer treatment. They are also researching how to treat breast cancer with protons. As chair and professor of the Department of Radiation Medicine at LLUMC, Dr. Jerry D. Slater, son of Dr. James Slater, has worked with the center for some time now. He says, "What we have been pioneering at this center is a model that the rest of the world now follows."

The James Slater Proton Treatment Center is somewhat of a family affair. Dr. James Slater's other son, Jon, an engineer, lead the team that designed the control system that makes the entire program work.

When asked how he felt about the center being renamed for his father Dr. Jerry Slater said, "I know he really appreciates this honor. He put so much of his life into developing this form of therapy that has benefited so many patients."

He added, "Even people not in the proton therapy and standard radiation field are aware of what [my father] has done and what he has brought to the field of radiation oncology."

Pastor Lowell Cooper, chairman of the LLUMC board and a vice president of the Adventist world church, said the board chose to rename the center after Dr. Slater because, "He is the one who lead in the development of the Center at Loma Linda and is recognized worldwide as a leading physicist. Dr. Slater is really one of the [most] outstanding scientists, not only in our denominational ranks, but in the world."

Today the center continues researching new and better ways of treating cancer. For more information about proton therapy for treating cancer call 1800 PROTONS or see www.protons.com.