The most effective approach to treating cancer is constantly evolving. Virtually every day, expert physicians and researchers collaborate in hopes of developing to develop a new technology, medication, or procedure so people with cancer can live stronger and longer.
The AHN Cancer Institute is contributing significantly to the medical ingenuity that aims to detect and combat cancer at all stages. The institute’s commitment to innovation is further evident in its new state-of-the-art academic center being built on the campus of Allegheny General Hospital. It will serve as the nucleus of cancer research, clinical trials, and medical education, integration, and collaboration and feature the most advanced technologies available for the fight against cancer.
Here are just five of the many breakthroughs taking place at AHN Cancer Institute.
MRI Technology and Radiation Merge in Groundbreaking New Device
Radiation treatments are already delivered with pinpoint accuracy, but the new MR-linac* takes precision to the next level. AHN will be the only cancer center in the region and one of only six in the United States to test this new innovative technology. The MR-linac combines a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine with the radiation delivery machine – known as a linear accelerator – into one treatment device. The MRI provides high-quality images of a tumor in real-time, and then the linear accelerator emits radiation beams to the exact location of the cancer.
Inhaling and exhaling causes organs, tissues, and the actual tumor to move. This technology – which will be in research phase in 2020 at the AHN Cancer Institute Academic Center – allows us to see images of a patient’s body as breaths are taken, so we can directly target the tumor with radiation. If a tumor moves out of the determined radiation area as a patient inhales the radiation automatically turns off. When the patient exhales and the tumor returns to its original position the high-energy beams resume.
This type of delivery limits healthy tissue and organs from being radiated while providing a powerful dose of radiation to the cancer.
*Elekta Unity is pending 510(k) premarket clearance and not available for commercial distribution or sale in the U.S.
CAR T-Cell Therapy Uses Person’s Own Cells to Attack Cancer
Offered at only a limited number of cancer centers in the country, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell immunotherapy (CAR T-cell therapy) is an emerging treatment used for aggressive forms of blood cancer, including leukemia and lymphoma. Available at the AHN Cancer Institute, CAR T-cell therapy involves taking blood from a patient and then isolating the T-cells (disease-fighting immune cells).
Those cells are then sent to a lab where they are genetically re-engineered to produce chimeric antigen receptor (CARs) on their surface. CARs are proteins that allow T cells to recognize and kill cancer cells. They also may remain in the body long after the infusion has been completed and guard against cancer’s recurrence. These new “fighter” cells are frozen, returned to the hospital, and infused back into the patient to begin attacking the cancer.
Breakthrough Chemo Procedure Destroys Microscopic Cancer Cells
AHN Cancer Institute is one of the few centers in the country treating patients with advanced abdominal cancers using an innovative treatment called Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC). During HIPEC, the surgeon removes all visible signs of cancer and then bathes the peritoneum with heated chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells left behind and to prevent new cancer growth.
With traditional chemotherapy treatment, the drug must go through the bloodstream to reach the cancer. With HIPEC, doctors can safely deliver a strong dose of chemotherapy directly where it’s needed, treating cancer cells that are too small to see. By keeping chemotherapy out of the bloodstream, HIPEC also leads to fewer unpleasant side effects.
Genomic Testing and Precision Medicine Directly Target Cancer
The human genome is our full set of DNA — the building blocks of our cells. Doctors know that cancer results from changes to DNA. Cancer genomics compares the DNA of cancer cells to that of healthy cells. The results can reveal the genetic cause of tumor growth — and help doctors identify and deliver the most effective treatment.
AHN Cancer Institute specialists collaborate with genetic experts at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center as part of a tumor board known as GAITWAY, which stands for Genetic Alteration in Tumors with Actionable Yields. In this meeting, more than a dozen of the brightest minds in cancer consult together to review cancer gene sequencing reports and find “actionable targets.” This term describes gene changes that doctors can attack with an available, FDA-approved drug — or a clinical trial. The goal is to determine the best therapy to target that mutation — and destroy it.
Advanced Radiation Shrinks Inoperable Liver Tumors and Offers Hope for Transplant
Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) uses sophisticated technology to identify the precise location of a tumor, so it can be targeted with millimeter precision. AHN Cancer Institute pioneered the use of SBRT to shrink tumors in patients with inoperable liver cancer. It also works as a “bridge to liver transplant.” This means that physicians use SBRT to hold off a tumor’s growth, giving transplant-eligible patients more time to wait for a new liver to become available.
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