In our effort to improve outcomes for children and adults with cancer, researchers at our Proton Therapy Center are embarking on the world’s first-ever clinical trial for the most innovative form of radiation therapy—FLASH.
It was just a normal Tuesday at the breakfast table when Colson first got sick. Emily wasn’t too worried—as a mom of three, she knows that toddlers with upset tummies are part of the gig.
But when it kept happening, concern started creeping in, and Emily took Colson to his doctor.
He didn’t have any infections, but there were viruses going around, so the doctor’s orders were to take him home and keep an eye on him.
“I just knew something wasn’t quite right,” Emily says. “His chubby little cheeks were thinning out. When he stopped walking and became lethargic,” she pauses, “I knew we needed to do something.”
A visit to a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, just an hour from his hometown, finally revealed the cause of Colson’s fading health.
“After a CT scan, they followed us right back to our room,” Emily says, her voice heavy with emotion. “They told us that Colson had a mass in his head. As a parent, how do you react to that?”
Best Care Bolsters the Best Outcomes
At just 19 months old, Colson underwent surgery at a hospital near his home to have the tumor removed. It was a success, but because there’s a high chance of recurrence with this kind of tumor, it wasn’t the end of his journey.
Colson needed an innovative treatment known as proton therapy—a safer, more precise form of radiation—to eliminate any microscopic cancer cells left behind. This super-targeted therapy utilizes pencil-thin beam technology to treat tumors while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
For parents watching their child battle a life-threatening illness, the need to make important care decisions is harrowing. But Emily felt confident putting Colson in the hands of the experts in our Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute, home to one of only two proton therapy centers within a children’s hospital.
“In our research, we found that Cincinnati Children’s is ranked among the top three pediatric cancer programs in the nation,” she says. “We had options—but getting such world-class care won us over.”
The First-Ever Human Trial of FLASH Radiation Therapy
Improving outcomes for kids with cancer means more than great clinical care. It also means uncovering clues about the causes of cancer and working toward more effective therapies. As leaders in basic science and clinical research, we’re advancing cancer treatment through collaboration and the latest technology.
Our Proton Therapy Center is the only one in the country with a dedicated research facility. It’s a dynamic hub where our experts partner with teams from the University of Cincinnati on bold scientific and medical advances.
The latest is FLASH radiation therapy. Different from conventional proton therapy, FLASH radiation can deliver treatment at ultra-high speeds in as little as one treatment and lasts less than one second. Our Proton Therapy Center is one of the few units in the country with a 90-ton cyclotron capable of delivering FLASH therapy.
This is a potential game-changer, especially for young children like Colson, whose vital organs are not yet fully developed. In pre-clinical testing, FLASH has been shown to reduce side effects and spare healthy tissues. And the super-short delivery time can help reduce anxiety for kids, who in some cases have to receive anesthesia to ensure they remain still.
And now, expert researchers at our center are conducting the world’s first FLASH clinical trial for patients with cancer.
The World’s Top Research Pioneers
For Susanne Wells, PhD, the new frontier of FLASH therapy carries tremendous potential to advance care for adults and kids with cancer. As co-director of the proton biology group, she’s been working with researchers here and at the University of Cincinnati for the last five years.
“Our job is to understand how this very new treatment will affect the tumor, as well as the surrounding tissues,” says Dr. Wells. “The study is still ongoing and actively enrolling adult patients with metastatic bone cancer. The condition is extremely painful, and our hope is that this can be alleviated with the absence of side effects.”
Co-leading this trial is John Perentesis, MD, director of our Division of Oncology and Cancer Programs and the Proton Therapy Research Center. “FLASH is potentially a transformational advance for cancer treatment for many patients,” he explains. “If the side effects on surrounding healthy tissues can be significantly reduced, the dose of radiation to treat a cancer can be greatly increased. This would raise hope to cure malignancies that respond to radiation but aren’t completely eradicated at the current dose, including brain tumors like DIPG and sarcomas.”
Igniting the Spark of Innovation
The partnership between researchers and clinicians drives the transformation of care. But there’s another key relationship in improving health here and around the world.
Private donors and philanthropic partners in the corporate community, like Total Quality Logistics (TQL), play an integral role in fueling innovations such as FLASH therapy.
“Cincinnati Children’s elevates our healthcare system across the region,” says Corey Drushal, Corporate Giving Manager for TQL. “We believe, with the medical center’s leadership, cancer care and treatments will improve beyond our wildest expectations.”
Recently, TQL gave $1 million to benefit cancer research at our Proton Therapy Center. The impact our corporate and community partners make when they invest in improving outcomes for kids is as plain as the smile on Colson’s face.
“We’re so proud to be connected to an organization on the cutting edge, and one in our own backyard,” Corey says. “Many of our employees turn to the medical center for their child’s care. So seeing bold new initiatives like the FLASH proton clinical trials makes us hopeful for the future.”
Our researchers share that hope. And they understand more than most the direct impact that donors have on improving care—how they enable us to take those first few steps that set change in motion.
“Philanthropy is crucial for initiating bold research that’s not yet eligible for government funding,”
Dr. Wells says. “We wouldn’t be able to do this work without donor support.”
Collaborating to Give Kids a Brighter Future
Thanks to donors like TQL and the researchers who help us revolutionize cancer care through technological advances, Colson is doing all the things 3-year-olds love to do. He plays with his older brother Maddox and his twin sister Riley. And he loves making his family laugh whenever he can.
“Cincinnati Children’s goes above and beyond,” Emily says. “Not just with awesome medical treatment, but with the consideration they took for Colson. They showed us that his feelings matter. How he responds to their questions matters. They weren’t just treating his cancer; they were treating him as a person. I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
For more information or to make a gift, please contact Kasey Fischesser at 513-636-4221 or firstname.lastname@example.org.