Health Care

A Star Wars-like tumor blaster goes to war against cancer at this new center

Tour the newly opened Miami Cancer Institute

Take a tour inside of the new Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Hospital in Miami.
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Take a tour inside of the new Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Hospital in Miami.

Baptist Health South Florida will open the doors of a new $430 million cancer center on Thursday that aims to attract patients from all over the world.

The 445,000-square-foot Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist’s main campus in Kendall has been 10 years in the making. The center combines a cancer research lab and treatment facilities that offer the four types of traditional radiation therapy, the only center in North America with all four, Baptist says. It also boasts South Florida’s only facility for proton therapy, which blasts highly charged proton particles at tumors without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue.

With 60 percent of cancer patients requiring some form of radiation therapy, according to Dr. Michael Zinner, the founding CEO and executive medical director for the Institute, having all of the existing treatment options available in one place will enable doctors to tailor treatment.

“We really want to be able to customize radiation care for the patient and what their need is” instead of letting the available equipment dictate the treatment, Zinner said.

The center’s chemotherapy facilities also offer something unique: a room for children with an interactive screen that transports them to the beach, outer space, a marine sanctuary, or anywhere else they want to go. The idea, said Steve Holan, the center’s vice president of clinical operations, is that a staff person can ask the children, “Where do you guys want to heal today?”

The Institute will also provide psychologists, on-site yoga, meditation classes and massage therapy. In addition, it will have a demonstration kitchen where patients and their families can learn to make specific foods for their treatment.

Baptist Health anticipates that one of the biggest draws will be the $130 million proton therapy facility, three treatment rooms connected to a 220-ton particle accelerator called the cyclotron. Staffed by 20 engineers, the cyclotron looks like something out of a “Star Wars” movie. But despite its size, the machine can deliver beams the width of a pencil, targeting only cancer cells.

“You use it where you want the least collateral damage,” said Zinner, adding that children and brain tumor patients are often good candidates for proton therapy.

Once it is up and running in August, the cyclotron will deliver treatments 12 hours a day. Engineers will spend another 12 hours a day recalibrating the machine.

To staff the Miami Cancer Institute, Baptist Health recruited doctors from across the country. The center also has an agreement with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, whose New York City hospital ranks among the top cancer treatment centers in the country, giving Miami Cancer Institute patients access to Sloan Kettering’s clinical trials.

For Zinner, a Miami native who previously worked at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston, another top cancer center, the Institute will provide more cancer treatment options in South Florida.

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami has dominated cancer care in South Florida. Last year, Sylvester opened the state’s first Pancreatic Cancer Research Institute.

“I know patients who left South Florida to visit me in Boston or [go to] New York,” Zinner said. Overseeing the opening of the Miami-based center “was a chance for me to give back to my community what I learned all over the country.”

“It means no one has to leave South Florida for the highest level of cancer care in the world,” Zinner added. “We will be able to do any kind of cancer care there is.”