Australia’s first proton beam therapy centre will be built within the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) in 2020, according to the federal government’s official announcement as part of the 2017 Federal Budget that committed $68 million to support the establishment.

Proton beam therapy (PBT), which is not currently available for cancer patients in Australia, is radiation therapy that uses heavier particles (protons) instead of x-rays, which are used in conventional radiotherapy.

The institute hopes the new technology will be housed in a second yet-to-be-built building to be known as SAHMRI 2, next to the new Royal Adelaide Hospital which is set to open its doors on 5 September this year.

“This major investment is a significant step for Australian health and medical research because it will expand our capacity to conduct ground-breaking research and assist patients who will soon have [greater] access to this cutting edge technology,” explains Michell-McGrath Breast Cancer Fellow cancer researcher Professor Andreas Evdokiou in an interview with Neos Kosmos.

The PBT unit will be used for a mixture of research, education, public, and private patient treatment.

According to Professor Evdokiou, who is head of the Breast Cancer Research Unit at the Basil Hetzel Institute (Queen Elizabeth Hospital), this method is very expensive but useful for treating tumours that are near critical parts of the body, such as the brain, and the spinal cord.

“There are around 100 such facilities around the world, but none in Australia, therefore the delivery of this technology and healthcare treatment here is vital for treating all cancer patients and especially for infants and young children, because PBT lessens the chance of harming healthy, developing tissue,” says Evdokiou.

“What this allows us to do is not only treat our own Australian patients, who on some occasions have been travelling overseas for the treatment, but also open ourselves to the rest of the world and welcome people from the broader Asia-Pacific region so they can benefit from the first proton therapy centre in the Southern Hemisphere.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the technology will particularly benefit people suffering from cancer in the brain, vertebral column, and bony pelvis, and for treating specific tumours in infants and young children.

The minister also revealed that this project has been on top of the list in his portfolio for a while and it was time for Australia to be part of the next great wave of oncology treatment, and that the SAHMRI was an exceptionally advanced research institute, making it an ideal fit to host the cancer treatment centre.

He also confirmed that the government is exploring options for additional facilities in other states and territories.

“This technology opens up medical tourism and wonderful economic opportunities for our state as well as being life-saving for people and it will be a beacon of hope not just for Australians, but the entire region,” Hunt said.

SAHMRI’s Executive Director, Professor Steve Wesselingh, said that this announcement will further enhance the link to direct patient care and the opportunity to translate research findings directly to improvements in health service and clinical service models.

“South Australia will be able to attract the best and the brightest researchers and clinicians to utilise the proton therapy unit and this will put us on the global stage to attract academic talent and grants, and enable us to service the Australasian region for proton therapy treatment that has not been available previously,” he said.

Greek Australian senator Nick Xenophon applauded the funding announcement saying his team had spent hours lobbying for the facility whilst South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said that securing federal funding for the development of the new facility was a “massive win for South Australia.

“It’s been a race to see which would be the first state around the nation to get the proton therapy unit – this will be the only proton unit anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere and having it in Adelaide is an outstanding result for SA.

“We will be a world leader and this unit will also help create highly skilled jobs for South Australians,” Premier Weatherill concluded.