From the beginning, Dr. Slater believed that a
heavy-charged-particle facility should be designed specifically for patient use
and be based at a hospital, where patients would have ready access to supporting
services necessary to deliver high-quality care. It quickly became apparent that 1970 was too
early to develop a hospital-based, patient-dedicated treatment facility. A medical
particle accelerator and its control system must be highly reliable, with very
little “downtime,” and greatly increased computing power must become
available, affordable, and sufficiently competent to deliver complex treatment plans
and operate complex charged-particle systems. Imaging capabilities must also be
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Dr. Slater and his colleagues studied
with other colleagues at particle facilities in the United States and around the
world. As time went on, Dr. Slater became more and more certain that the proton was
the optimal particle to use for a clinical heavy-charged-particle treatment
center. With the further passage of time, it also became apparent that engineering
advances, notably in computer competence and advancing digital imaging capabilities,
were making it more feasible to develop a sophisticated proton treatment system in a
In 1984 Dr. Slater recruited John O. Archambeau, MD, FACR,
to help the LLU effort in developing a hospital-based proton treatment system. Dr.
Archambeau was one of the pioneers of proton radiation therapy; he had formerly
headed the proton treatment program at Brookhaven National Laboratory and had
written some of the classic early papers about the modality in the early and
January, 1985 can be regarded as a salient date in the history of hospital-based
proton treatment. Dr. Slater and other LLU investigators participated in a symposium
The meeting revealed much enthusiasm among international investigators for
the concept of a medically dedicated proton accelerator and facility. At that time,
Daniel Miller, PhD physicist, was recruited from Duke University to become the third
member of the LLU team.
As 1985 proceeded, Dr. Slater and LLU investigators intensified their efforts to
develop a proton treatment system at LLUMC. During the several meetings Dr. Slater
approached Philip Livdahl, Deputy Director of Fermilab, to inquire whether the
Laboratory might be able to work with LLUMC to develop and build a proton treatment
system for Loma Linda. Dr. Slater was then making inquiries of private industry as to
whether they would, or could, build a proton accelerator and delivery system for use in
a hospital. All of the major manufacturers declined and National Laboratories do not
compete with private industry. Livdahl consulted with others at Fermilab, including the
Director, Leon Lederman, PhD, and informed Dr. Slater that the Laboratory could
participate under its “work for others” program, which was designed to promote
technology transfer. At this time, the support of two people became critical: David
B. Hinshaw, MD, FACS,
President of LLUMC, and Reverend Neal B. Wilson, Chair of the Boards of Trustees at LLU and
LLUMC, played essential roles in supporting the endeavor; their support helped convince
other faculty and Board members that a proton treatment facility was feasible and consistent
with the basic mission of the University and Medical Center.
In July of 1987, Jerry D. Slater, MD was recruited to the Department of Radiation
Medicine, following his training at M.D. Anderson Hospital and Massachusetts General
Hospital, the latter in their proton treatment program at HCL.
Dr. Slater immediately began to develop protocols for treating patients with protons at LLU.
In April 1988, ground was broken on the campus of Loma Linda University Medical Center
for the proton facility. This event helped to highlight the important contributions made
by supporters in the U.S. Congress, notably Representative Jerry Lewis
(R-Redlands, CA), who believed in the project from an early date. Congress appropriated
$8.5 million for the facility and, in another session, granted an additional $11.1
million through the Department of Energy.
in November 1989, George B. Coutrakon, PhD, a physicist from Fermilab, was
recruited to the LLUMC staff as lead operator for the proton accelerator. Dr. Coutrakon
remained at LLUMC and has helped with technical upgrades and improvements to the
synchrotron and its systems, a process that goes on continually.
Installation of the accelerator and support systems was completed in early 1990.
Testing of the 250-million-electron-volt (MeV) accelerator was conducted at
LLUMC in summer and autumn. By October, the LLU team completed the tuning and
commissioning of the accelerator and fixed beam room. On October 20, the first
patient, a woman with an ocular melanoma, was treated at the new proton treatment center.