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OSF Breaks Ground On New $237 Million Cancer Institute

Hannah Alani
Local leaders in the Catholic church join OSF executives, doctors and others at a groundbreaking ceremony of OSF HealthCare's Cancer Institute on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021.

Peoria is one step closer to becoming the next Illinois location to offer an innovative form of cancer treatment.

OSF HealthCare broke ground Tuesday on a new $237 million Cancer Institute that will utilize proton beam therapy, a pinpoint-targeted radiation treatment that leaves surrounding healthy tissue untouched.

The 180,000-square-foot cancer center and accompanying 10-story parking deck will be located at the intersection of Armstrong and Glen Oak at the east edge of OSF's campus.

Before a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, the bishop for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Louis Tylka, led OSF workers in prayer. He encircled a mound of dirt in front of a Caterpillar excavator and blessed the land, flicking holy water at the ground.

In the background, a corkscrew-shaped drill was drilling 40 feet deep into central Illinois bedrock. Eventually, a vault encased by 14-foot-thick concrete walls will house the actual proton therapy gun. Once placed, the gun cannot be moved.

Hannah Alani
A hole is being drilled for a proton beam therapy gun, which will be part of OSF's $237 million Cancer Institute.

There are currently 38 treatment facilities in the United States using proton beam therapy. The only one currently operating in Illinois is in Chicago, 130 miles from Peoria. The next nearest facilities are in St. Louis and Cincinnati.

Dr. James McGee is the medical director of OSF oncology. He said the proton therapy gun will not only improve patient outcomes and experiences in Illinois, it will offer an opportunity for a multidisciplinary approach to cancer care and research.

For example, McGee already is brainstorming ideas with Rohit Bhargava, a University of Illinois engineer and the director of the Cancer Center at Illinois.

“When you get people together from different disciplines and start talking about cancer you find things that maybe hadn’t clicked before, but maybe there’s an awful lot there,” he said. “(There is) some difficulty with determining the exact biological effect of where the protons stop in the body. Well, Rohit and I think we can solve all that.”

Proton beam therapy can precisely target tumors to avoid harming surrounding tissue, advocates say.
Blythe Bernhard
St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT/Landov
Proton beam therapy can precisely target tumors to avoid harming surrounding tissue, advocates say.

To that point, McGee said, the new building’s designs include room for 3T imaging next to the proton gun.

Bhargava said cancer care has not been recognized for fundamental innovation since 1987. Working with OSF, he hopes to change that.

“If technology in our daily lives has changed so much in the last so many years, why has cancer care not changed?” he asked. “Technology is a really powerful force. And what our cancer center is committed to doing is making sure technology is used to make cancer care more humane.”

An image with radiation doses from proton therapy superimposed.
Wikimedia Commons
An image with radiation doses from proton therapy superimposed.

Dr. Madhuri Bajaj works in oncology and hematology for Illinois CancerCare, one of the largest private practice oncology programs in the country. Illinois CancerCare alsois a partner on the Cancer Institute.

More than 10,000 Illinois CancerCare patients have participated in nearly 1,500 clinical trials, Bajaj said.

“Clinical trial research is at the top and at the core of our practice,” she said. “At any given time, we have more than 100 clinical trials open. … We are committed, and looking forward to collaborating with OSF and to enhance and expand personalized cancer care.”

OSF HealthCare
A rendering of the $237 million Cancer Institute.

Illinois ranks seventh in the nation for cancer cases, with downstate Illinois projected to see 10,000 new cases per year. It is still unknown how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect that number, as many screenings were delayed or postponed.

OSF has a fundraising goal of $100 million. The timeline for construction will depend on fundraising, but OSF hopes to provide treatments by 2023.

In addition to proton beam therapy, the OSF Cancer Institute will offer brachytherapy, patient education and support spaces, an infusion center and other services.

State officials signed off on the Cancer Institute — previously named the "Comprehensive Cancer Center" — in early 2020.

Hannah Alani
Bishop Louis Tylka of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria blesses the land where OSF plans to build a $237 million Cancer Institute.
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Hannah Alani is a reporter at WCBU. She joined the newsroom in 2021. She can be reached at hmalani@ilstu.edu.