Empire State Development Announces the Nation’s First Linear Accelerator ‘Booster’ Focused on Researching Next-Generation Cancer Treatments at Columbia University

April 11, 2022

Columbia’s $2.7 Million Instrument Will Help Scientists to Uncover the Full Potential of Heavy Ion Radiation Therapy for Hard-to-Treat Cancers 

Empire State Development today announced the completion and installation of Columbia University’s $2.7 million custom designed and manufactured linear accelerator, or LINAC, booster at its Radiological Research Accelerator Facility (RARAF) in Irvington, Westchester County. The LINAC booster will allow scientists at Columbia University and other cancer research institutions to better understand how radiation therapy with carbon and other heavy ions work in patients with hard-to-treat malignancies. The completion and installation of this LINAC booster establishes Columbia University as the only institution in the United States with an instrument dedicated to research on heavy ion radiation therapy. 

"Today’s ribbon cutting on the Linear Accelerator (LINAC) Booster signals to the rest of the nation that New York is ready to lead the charge as the public health capital of the world," said Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin. "This Mid-Hudson facility will accelerate the world’s progress on developing the next generation of cancer treatments, which will allow for job creation, while also saving lives. As Chair of the statewide Regional Economic Development Councils, I am particularly proud of our Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council for seeing the potential in this investment long before it was reality." 

Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President & CEO-designate Hope Knight said, "The research that is being conducted at Columbia University’s Radiological Research Accelerator Facility has the potential to make groundbreaking advances in cancer research. This project will support the region’s life science industry, complements the state’s investments in research and development and truly represents what public-private partnerships can accomplish." 

Lisa Kachnik, MD, Chu H. Chang Professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, said, "We are most excited and thankful to work with New York State in creating new pathways for investigators at Columbia University to better understand how we can leverage heavy ion radiation therapy and enhance outcomes for patients with difficult-to-treat cancers." 

David Brenner, PhD, Higgins Professor of Radiation Biophysics and director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said, "Carbon and other heavy ions may offer important advantages over conventional radiation therapy in treating pancreatic and other types of cancer, but the biology underlying its efficacy is not well understood. Thanks to generous grants from the state and National Cancer Institute, scientists at Columbia and other cancer research institutions will be able to answer some longstanding questions about the mechanisms underlying the antitumor effects of heavy ions in an effort to develop more effective therapies for hard-to-treat cancers." 

Conventional radiation therapy mainly uses photons—weightless particles of light—to damage the DNA in tumor cells. Because photons are so light, they release most of their energy in healthy tissue en route to their target. And the deeper a tumor it is, the less radiation it may receive. Heavy ions could radically improve radiation therapy for treatment of pancreatic cancer and other difficult-to-treat tumors if researchers can better understand how the ions work against cancer. 

There are 13 centers outside of the United States treating patients with carbon ion radiation therapy, and data from these centers show that radiotherapy with carbon ions for some hard-to-treat tumors is promising. Currently, researchers at Columbia are planning to study the effects of heavy ions in preclinical models of pancreatic, breast, esophageal, melanoma, and prostate tumors. 

Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chairs Dr. Marsha Gordon, President & CEO of The Business Council of Westchester, and Dr. Kristine Young, President of SUNY Orange, said, "Projects such as Columbia University’s linear accelerator perfectly represent the goals of the state's regional approach to economic development through the Regional Council process. By identifying projects in the life science cluster, a priority of the region, we can grow the Mid-Hudson’s life sciences workforce, increase opportunities for entrepreneurship and growth and most importantly, identify treatments that will result in better health outcomes for all." 

The Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council recommended a $400,000 Empire State Development Capital Grant towards the purchase and installation of this instrument. Not only will the LINAC booster allow researchers to uncover the full potential of heavy ion radiation therapy, it will retain 20 existing jobs and create seven new jobs.   

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, "The completion of Columbia University's linear accelerator (LINAC) booster at the Radiological Research Accelerator Facility (RARAF) in Irvington is an exciting milestone in the fight against cancer. I'm proud of New York State's $400,000 investment through the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council for this project and the jobs it will retain and create, to ensure that Westchester County is leading the way against pancreatic, breast, prostate, and more hard-to-treat cancers. The scourge of cancer has impacted almost every family in some way, and I look forward to the progress that will be made." 

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said, "We are pleased to serve as the home of this innovative technological advancement that will help improve patient care and allow for a foundation to treat this disease more thoroughly, while providing new forms of therapy." 

About Empire State Development  

Empire State Development (ESD) is New York’s chief economic development agency. The mission of ESD is to promote a vigorous and growing economy, encourage the creation of new job and economic opportunities, increase revenues to the State and its municipalities, and achieve stable and diversified local economies. Through the use of loans, grants, tax credits and other forms of financial assistance, ESD strives to enhance private business investment and growth to spur job creation and support prosperous communities across New York State. ESD is also the primary administrative agency overseeing the Regional Economic Development Councils and the marketing of "I LOVE NY," the State’s iconic tourism brand. For more information on Regional Councils and Empire State Development, visit www.regionalcouncils.ny.gov and www.esd.ny.gov.  

Kristin Devoe | [email protected] | (518) 414-1087