NIU joins Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Feinberg School of Medicine to fight cancer

Cherilyn G. Murer
Cherilyn G. Murer

Northern Illinois University, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine today announced a new collaborative research and academic partnership with Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center designed to create innovative life saving protocols in the field of nuclear medicine and proton beam therapy as well as expand health care workforce training for students.

“The goal of developing new high energy physics and particle accelerator treatments will put us and the state of Illinois at the center of the worldwide nuclear medicine field,” said Cherilyn G. Murer, chair of the board of trustees of NIU and chair of the board of directors of Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center (NIPTRC). “This partnership is a catalyst that will open new doors to advanced cancer treatment and research.”

NMH, Feinberg and NIU have developed training programs focused on developing the next generation health care workforce and ensuring that the safety and quality of patient care is continuously improved. The institutions are dedicated to increasing the impact of their existing academic curriculum by developing and implementing shared distance education programs while adding advanced degrees and certifications in health care.

“This collaboration between sciences, health sciences and medicine creates a whole new spectrum of possibilities for enhancing educational opportunities for students,” said Ray Alden, executive vice president and provost at NIU and a member of the NIPTRC Board. “The outcomes will yield a better trained, more skilled health care workforce for the benefit of patients.”

Program development will be guided by an advisory board comprised of invited experts from each institution as well as regional health care networks

NIU has approved a graduate certificate in Healthcare Policy and Management that works across the colleges of business, engineering, health sciences and law as a means of improving specific aspects of health care service delivery. Meanwhile, the Institute for Healthcare Studies at Feinberg offers a series of innovative professional development, certificate and graduate degrees focused on health care quality and patient safety.

Logo of Northern Illinois Proton Treatment & Research Center, LLCThe new partnership will also focus on proton treatment and research for cancer patients. This noninvasive treatment has become the therapy of choice for certain pediatric and adult cancers.

Protons produce better targeted dose delivery of radiotherapy and significantly reduce damage to healthy cells. In 2004, NIU helped to launch NIPTRC to make available proton beam therapy.

“Northwestern has really enjoyed working together with our partners at NIU to look for new opportunities including innovative treatment protocols for proton therapy,” said Bharat Mittal, MD, professor and chairman of Radiation Oncology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “This is very important work and we look forward to continuing our collaboration in the future, offering far-reaching benefits to critical areas in need.”

“The partnership will support collaborative research projects in medical physics involving faculty members, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students from these institutions,” said Lisa Freeman, vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at NIU. “Working together will allow NMH, Feinberg and NIU to expand their outreach and more effectively respond to critical societal and workforce demands.”

NIU’s accelerator physics program is the finest in Illinois, and one of the top programs in the United States.

The university has a strong tradition in the research and development of particle accelerator and detector technology through long established relationships with Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory. Scientists from NIU are already working on the development of new systems and products that will have broad commercial applications to make proton and other therapies more effective, efficient and available to ever-greater numbers of people.

In addition, NIU’s academic and research programs in the area of particle physics have taken a multidisciplinary approach to provide students with the educational experiences and the flexibility of working with teams of experts in this important health care arena.

Researchers from NIPTRC, NIU, Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation and Feinberg have been working cooperatively with Fermilab, Argonne National Laboratory, Loma Linda University Medical Center and partners around the country to develop new and more effective therapies for cancer patients.

For instance, new protocols are being developed for whole lung irradiation for children with lung metastases from a Wilms’ tumor, rhabdomyosarcoma and Ewing’s Sarcoma.

Additionally, a new approach to treating prostate cancer is being researched using better imaging from a proton beam scan that has the potential to virtually eliminate the margin of error by providing a more precise image than a conventional x-ray CT scan. This along with the use of nanoparticles as a radiation sensitizer could change the way prostate cancer is treated.

John L. Lewis
John L. Lewis

The partnership will focus on a variety of treatment protocols for proton therapy with an eye toward conducting clinical trials, said John L. Lewis, executive director of the Northern Illinois Proton Treatment Center.

“It’s the very kind of research necessary to enable proton therapy to move forward, and partnering with NMH and Feinberg will accelerate learning and medical breakthroughs while fulfilling our mission to provide highly innovative treatment for cancer patients,” Lewis said.

“Along with our partners from across the country, significant research will continue to be done and we will help to write the textbook on how best to deliver proton therapy.”

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