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New City of Hope Cancer Killer Spares Healthy Cells

City of Hope Orange County has a new cancer treatment more effective than previous treatments in sparing healthy tissue, it says.

This newest addition to City of Hope’s radiation therapies, MRIdian, combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and linear accelerators (LINAC) to take detailed pictures of soft tissue in a patient’s body.

The device is most often used to treat complex cancers, such as liver and pancreatic tumors, by more precisely targeting cancer cells, avoiding exposing more healthy cells to excessive radiation.

“Those are very sensitive structures that we don’t want to overtake with radiation,” Dr. Percy Lee, the medical director of City of Hope Orange County’s radiation oncology department, told the Business Journal.

The technology is part of a trio of advanced machines that City of Hope has installed to tailor radiation therapy to individual patients. They are in the Lennar Foundation Cancer Center’s radiation oncology department.

“If a patient has all of those options under one roof, it’s really amazing because the patient won’t have to go anywhere else for it,” President Annette Walker told the Business Journal.

Donations

City of Hope in 2022 opened its 190,000-square-foot outpatient cancer center within its growing $1.5 billion Irvine campus at the Great Park Neighborhoods.

At the end of next year, a 164,000-square-foot cancer hospital will be opening next door to the center after three years of construction. Hospital executives say it will be Orange County’s only hospital dedicated exclusively to treating and curing cancer.

The six-story facility will be connected to the adjacent outpatient center and equipped with 73 beds, four operating rooms, an advanced imaging lab and a blood bank. As with the cancer center, the hospital will be designed with elements of feng shui in mind for inclusivity, such as the absence of a fourth floor, Walker said.

The nonprofit has received several large donations in recent years, including $25 million from the Argryos family and $50 million from the Lennar Foundation, the charitable arm of real estate developer Lennar Corp.

City of Hope topped the Business Journal’s list of recipients of Largest Charitable Gifts of 2023 with a $100 million donation from Andrew and Peggy Cherng, co-founders and co-CEOs of the Rosemead-based restaurant chain Panda Express.

The Cherng family’s donation is going toward the creation of what the hospital says is a novel, oncology program that combines Eastern and Western practices. It’s the largest-ever gift in the cancer hospital’s century-long history.

With these contributions, City of Hope is aiming to create the most advanced cancer care network in OC, according to its website.

Founded in 1913, City of Hope’s headquarters in Duarte has grown into one of the largest cancer research and treatment organizations in the U.S. The company’s OC cancer care network includes regional clinics in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Irvine.

City of Hope opened its first Orange County location in Newport Beach in 2020.

City of Hope now has about 600 physicians and more than 1,000 researchers and scientists focusing solely on cancer in Orange County.

Experienced Director

The cancer center has recruited national experts in areas such as radiology, pathology and anesthesiology.

One of them is Lee, who Walker calls “one of the best in the nation.”

Lee, who earned his doctorate from Harvard Medical School, has written over 350 publications about the benefits of advanced radiation technology.

In August 2022, he helped launch the radiation oncology department, which has since grown from eight employees to about 50.

“When you have technology that’s so sophisticated, you need sophisticated operators running it and directing care,” Walker said.

To be sure, there have been bumps in the road. The radiation oncology department began using its MRIdian last Thanksgiving, just a few months after Denver-based ViewRay Inc., the company that created the technology, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July.

But ViewRay said it planned to sell some or all its assets and received $6 million in financing from MidCap Financial Services to maintain MRIdian systems at customer sites.

The MRIdian’s combination of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and linear accelerators (LINAC) spots soft tissue, which most tumors are made of, better than a traditional computed tomography (CT) scan, Lee said.

While inside the machine, music plays and patients wear glasses that let them see on a screen what’s happening.

“Patients say that really helps with claustrophobia because it’s more of an interactive experience,” he said.

Lee said they prioritize patient comfort. The radiation oncology floor has natural light and some rooms have blanket warmer machines for patients undergoing radiation treatment.

“That may sound like a small thing, but it makes a difference,” Lee said.

Ethos, TrueBeam

The radiation oncology department also houses the TrueBeam and Ethos radiotherapy systems, both made by Varian Medical Systems in Palo Alto.

Lee calls the TrueBeam a work horse, typically used for longer course treatments, such as breast cancer. The machine can rotate in different directions to deliver radiation from many angles.

Ethos, on the other hand, uses an adaptive approach to radiation therapy that changes daily to match the patient’s body, like the MRIdian, except it’s CT-based.

City of Hope officials said the Lennar Foundation Cancer Center is the only cancer center in the world doing adaptive therapy using all three machines under one roof.

Doctors will determine which machine best suits patients, based on the movement of the tumors, Lee said.

“The body changes all the time,” Lee said. “In the past, we would just deliver radiation because we couldn’t see these changes, but now, we can adjust treatment plans.”

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