AHN Opens New Doors to Cancer Breakthroughs
Driven by its mission to end cancer, AHN Cancer Institute’s focus remains on research and discovery. Recently, the institute opened an $80 million treatment and research facility at Allegheny General Hospital where world-class clinical care and cancer research come together under one roof.
“This brand new facility serves as the network’s hub for oncology research programs and clinical trials to fight cancer through prevention, early detection, and effective treatments,” said Cindy Hundorfean, AHN President and CEO. “It is also a first-rate diagnostic and treatment center for residents of the North Side and surrounding area.”
The AHN Cancer Institute at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) allows doctors throughout the network to expand the number of innovative treatment options they can offer patients. This ranges from targeted therapies that zero in on a tumor’s genetic profile to new technologies that can eliminate the need for surgery. It also complements AHN’s new cancer genomics lab where doctors practice precision medicine. This is where several specialists come together to identify the genetic cause of tumor growth to help determine the most effective treatment.
David Bartlett, MD, an internationally recognized cancer surgeon and researcher, is excited to serve as the new chair of the AHN Cancer Institute. He joins AHN from UPMC, where he has been since 2001. Bartlett succeeds David S. Parda, MD, who was named president of AGH in October.
“It’s extremely important for us to have a strong translational research program that then brings new therapies to patients for testing and then hopefully to market,” Dr. Bartlett said.
The 90,000 square foot, four-story facility connects to the existing South Tower of AGH. In addition to the research program, the new facility provides patients with comprehensive, expert oncology care in one location. They can receive surgery, including robot-assisted and minimally invasive procedures, advanced imaging for accurate diagnosis, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.
Expertise extends to communities
To carry out successful collaboration among physicians, the institute at AGH has telemedicine technology. It’s used for doctors to talk to each other about patient’s cases and determine the right combination of therapies for each stage of treatment. Doctors also use telemedicine to discuss clinical trials and research opportunities, including those that AHN partners on with Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.
“We want patients to stay in their communities where it’s comfortable, convenient and efficient, but we also want the experts in their specific type of cancer available to them,” Dr. Bartlett said. “With this new HUB at AGH, we have the ability to teleconference for tumor board discussions and unique clinical trials while the care is still delivered in the community, close to patients’ homes.”
AHN Cancer Institute has grown extensively over the last year with the opening of five new state-of-the-art locations in Monroeville, Butler County, Beaver County, Erie and Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County. These facilities were part of a $300 million investment by Highmark and AHN to continue bringing expert cancer care closer to where people live and work.
“The new facilities that have been built are so important because patients don’t have to travel to the city for their treatments,” said G. Scott Long, MD, PhD., system director of AHN Cancer Institute Medical Oncology. “So much about cancer is difficult already, so if we can eliminate the stress of commuting and going to a whole new environment then that makes such a significant difference in a patient’s overall care.”
Patients at the AHN Cancer Institute at Allegheny General are also offered a positive image salon, nutritional counseling, and financial counseling, and they are offered valet parking. Each patient is assigned a nurse navigator who manages their entire care process.
Pushing the Boundaries of Discovery
At this new facility, AHN researchers and physicians will test advancing technologies, diagnostic tools and treatments. These breakthroughs include the MR-linac, a technology that simultaneously generates magnetic resonance images (MRI) and delivers radiation. AHN is one of a few cancer centers in the country to have the MR-linac. It allows doctors to view tumor tissue in real-time and adapt the radiation dose during a patient’s treatment.
“The MR-linac provides us with the ability to reshape the radiation dose based on daily changes in shape, size, and position of the tumor and surrounding healthy tissue and organs,” said Radiation Oncologist Tom Colonias, MD. “The daily MR also allows us to visualize the tumor better than with imaging currently available, hopefully resulting in better patient cancer outcomes and less side effects.”
The center also offers the GammaPod, the first radiation therapy system dedicated specifically to treat early-stage breast cancer. The technology delivers a high dose of radiation to the tumor while minimizing radiation exposure to vital tissue like the lungs, heart, ribs and skin. Additionally, traditional radiation treatments can take around four to six weeks. GammaPod treatment can take as little as one to five days. AHN is one of only six facilities in the country to have the GammaPod.
“It is an exciting time because the amount of changes and the new therapies that have come online in just the last five years is enormous,” Dr. Bartlett said. “It just speaks to what the future holds, which is we are going to get this disease behind us eventually.”
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