President's Message - Roberts Proton Therapy Center Opening - December 2009

December 3, 2009

Dear Members of our University Community:

Last week, we celebrated the opening of the Roberts Proton Therapy Center at the University of Pennsylvania—the largest, most advanced facility in the world for this most precise form of cancer radiation. The Center will allow us to make quantum leaps forward in health care treatment and research.

The proton beam which will be used at the Roberts Center begins inside a cyclotron, a machine that, at just slightly bigger than an SUV, weighs 220 tons—as much as a 747 jetliner. The treatment space, once it reaches full capacity, will allow as many as 200 patients to be treated each day, making the Center the largest of its kind in the world, and will bring some of the most challenging, hard-to-treat cancers through its doors. And as part of Penn Medicine, the Roberts Center will also conduct clinical studies to help physicians better understand which patients will derive the most benefit from proton therapy.

Proton therapy uses a beam of protons moving at very high speeds—at about 100,000 miles per second, near the speed of light—to pummel and destroy the DNA of cancer cells, killing them and preventing them from multiplying. Conventional radiation treatment uses X-rays or gamma rays, which, as they pass into the body, begin to scatter and lose much of their energy even before reaching the tumor. After passing through the tumor, they continue through the body—affecting not only the cancer cells, but healthy tissues along their path, often resulting in side effects for the patient.

This promising new addition to comprehensive treatment at the nationally recognized Abramson Cancer Center would not be possible without the extraordinary generosity of the Roberts family, whose transformational gift to establish this center is a reflection of their deep commitment to Penn, to the people of Philadelphia and the region, and to humanity. Their leadership and generosity have made a remarkable impact not only on Penn Medicine, but also on our faculty members’ research, on our scholarship recipients and in a variety of other ways on Penn’s campus.

Penn has a history distinguished by thoughtful action that changes the world. As we open the doors to the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, we are once again bringing this history to life—bringing the best, most advanced treatments to patients in Philadelphia and around the world.


Amy Gutmann