Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

UM/Sylvester Licenses Patented Radiation Oncology Device to Treat Cervical Cancer


Radiation oncologists at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center have created a new device which promises far superior treatment of women with cervical cancer. The University of Miami Wolfson-Wu Vaginal Applicator allows physicians to deliver low-dose brachytherapy (targeted radiation therapy) with more precision, better response, much less patient discomfort and in less time than ever before. UM/Sylvester has just signed a licensing agreement with Bio-Nucleonics, Inc., a Miami pharmaceutical company, to develop and distribute the device, and is about to begin new clinical testing.

The traditional device for cervical radiotherapy involved three separate metal pieces which were held in place with packing. It was painful enough to require narcotic medication and could take more than an hour to position. “It was so difficult that very few radiation oncologists did this outside of an academic medical center,” said Aaron H. Wolfson, M.D., member of several site disease groups at UM/Sylvester and professor of Radiation Oncology and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Also, the traditional device sometimes failed to radiate the entire tumor area, requiring additional hospital stays and treatment. “Our device can give a complete dose with one hospital stay, takes less than 15 minutes to insert, and requires no pain medication and no packing in the treatment area,” said Wolfson. “A local radiation oncologist could do this now.”

Dr. Wolfson created the device along with Xiaodong Wu, Ph.D., chief physicist and associate professor in Radiation Oncology at the UM School of Medicine. The Wolfson-Wu device is a plastic cylinder made in the shape of the human body to allow for quicker and more accurate application. Because it is a single piece, replacing three steel inserts, and because it is plastic, it is a much friendlier tool for both the physician and the patient. The plastic is also less likely than metal to interfere with emissions from the radiation therapy. In testing, of the first ten patients treated with the device, disease progression was stopped in all ten patients for at least one year. The first patient treated, in January of 2001, still shows no signs of disease in 2004. Results of the study were published in July, 2003, in the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer.

The ease of use could have a dramatic impact on the treatment of cervical cancer. In the United States each year, more than 10,000 women are diagnosed and nearly 4,000 die from cervical cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Widespread Pap testing helps prevent many cases in America. Globally, 400,000 people each year are diagnosed with this disease which is the third leading cancer killer in the world, largely because of inadequate Pap testing. With that in mind, Dr. Wolfson has applied for an NIH grant to fund research to address health disparities in women and minorities.

“This treatment is ideal for allowing women to get the best care for these cancers, particularly in technologically limited areas of the world,” said Wolfson. “We were having difficulty treating them with the previous technology.” The University of Miami holds a patent on the applicator and has applied for patents on the new radiation source used with it. “The radioactive source will be cheaper, more available and safer,” said Wolfson. “It has a very short half-life of days to weeks, so it’s basically disposable.” The safety and ease of use of the new device make it an ideal tool to treat underserved women in the U.S. and abroad.

This year more than 700 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in Florida. Patients seeking additional information regarding this clinical trial should call (305) 243-1000.

UM/Sylvester was founded in 1992 to provide comprehensive cancer services and today serves as the hub for cancer-related research, diagnosis, and treatment at the University of Miami School of Medicine. UM/Sylvester handles more than 1,100 inpatient admissions annually, performs 2,800 surgical procedures, and treats 2,900 new cancer patients. All UM/Sylvester physicians are on the faculty of the University of Miami School of Medicine, South Florida’s only academic medical center. In addition, UM/Sylvester physicians and scientists are engaged in more than 150 clinical trials and receive more than $30 million annually in research grants. UM/Sylvester at Deerfield Beach recently opened to better meet the needs of residents of Broward and Palm Beach Counties. This 10,000 square-foot facility at I-95 and S.W. 10th Street offers appointments with physicians from six cancer specialties, complementary therapies from the Courtelis Center, and education and outreach events.

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