December 6, 2001  
Contact: Keith Ayers, USA Director of Public Relations  (251) 460-6211

University of South Alabama to Bring Revolutionary New Cancer Detection Device to Mobile
Mobile will soon become one of the first cities in the nation to be home to a new device that is so effective at detecting cancer that it was named a Time magazine invention of the year.

The PET/CT scanner is the latest and best scanning technology for detecting cancer and will be installed at the new University of South Alabama Cancer Institute. The device is currently operational at only four other cancer research facilities in the United States. 


“USA’s new PET/CT scanner will be a major step forward in the continuing development of the USA Cancer Institute,” said University President Gordon Moulton, who announced the development at a Dec. 6 meeting of USA’s Board of Trustees.

“There is nothing else like it in our region. The PET/CT scanner can detect early cancer growth, leading to better treatments and increased longevity and quality of life.”

The PET/CT scanner not only gives physicians and researchers high-resolution images of cancers in the body, but they can observe the biological changes taking place in the body. Cancers can actually be seen while they are still in the formulation stage.

As the patient is transported through the PET/CT scanner, the anatomically detailed information obtained from a CT scan is merged with the biological function recorded by the PET scanner to form not merely a photograph, but an image that records living tissues and life processes. 

The PET/CT scanner differs from the traditional PET technology in that PET only provides for functional images in diagnosing disease, while the PET/CT combines the availability of accurately aligned, whole body anatomical (computerized tomography or CT) with functional (positron emission tomography or PET) imaging.

The anatomical and biological information obtained from the image permits accurate tumor detection and localization for a variety of cancers, including melanoma, lymphoma, lung, colorectal, head and neck, and ovarian cancers. Other applications include reducing biopsy sampling errors, improvement of therapy planning, and assessment of response to treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
“The benefits to the patient are obvious - earlier diagnosis, accurate staging and localization, precise treatment and patient monitoring,” said Dr. Robert Kreisberg, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the USA College of Medicine.

With the state-of-the-art images that the PET/CT scanner provides, patient outcomes are enhanced and unnecessary surgeries and other procedures are avoided. A PET/CT scanner image also provides early detection of the recurrence of cancer, revealing tumors that may otherwise be obscured by the scarring that results from surgery and radiation therapy, particularly in the head and neck.

The $2.6 million device is being funded through federal appropriations to the USA Cancer Institute, which have totaled more than $10.2 million since the Institute’s creation less than two years ago.

“The Mobile area is indebted to Congressman Sonny Callahan who has been highly instrumental in assisting the University in receiving the important federal funds needed to support the USA Cancer Institute, including funds for the PET/CT,” Moulton said.

“I support the University of South Alabama in its efforts to develop the first academic cancer research institute in the Upper Gulf Coast region,” Callahan said. “The health of my fellow Alabamians is of vital importance and I strongly believe that providing the people who live in this area with greater access to state-of –the-art cancer treatment will lead to healthier longer lives.”

USA’s PET/CT scanner will be located in the USA Cancer Institute’s facilities at USA Knollwood Hospital. The University will be filing a Certificate of Need with the state of Alabama for this innovative technology in the near future, with anticipated CON approval by the spring of 2002.

USA expects the CON process to be smooth, given the research-oriented aspect of the project and the PET/CT scanner’s ability to precisely detect and localize a variety of cancers. It is expected that USA’s PET/CT scanner will be operational in the summer of 2002.

PET/CT scanners are currently operational at the University of Pittsburgh, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Indiana University, and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla.

Primary objectives of the USA Cancer Institute are to conduct early testing of the newest and most promising anti-cancer drugs, in addition to continuing to perfect more established treatments involving existing drugs, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. USA scientists will also seek to better understand the basic mechanisms and biology of cancer to prevent and better treat the disease, along with advocating cancer prevention and education. The Institute will pursue designation as a National Cancer Institutes cancer center, which would lead to additional exposure and research funding.

The Institute is being funded initially by federal appropriations, funds from the University’s recent court settlement with tobacco companies, the University’s endowment, and research contracts and grants. Moulton said the Institute could involve the creation of some 600 jobs over the next five years.

Federal statistics indicate that cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States and the incidence of cancer is growing as the population ages. From 1970 to 2000, the number of people who could expect to get the disease increased from one in five to one in three. More than half of cancer patients do not respond to conventional treatment and need research-based drug trials and other treatments. Cancer is the costliest health care issue in the nation, accounting for 20 percent of health care expenditures nationally.

Federal data indicate that Mobile and Baldwin counties both have cancer death rates well above the national average. Mobile loses 900 people per year to cancer, while Baldwin loses about 300. Each year, 1,800 new cases of cancer are reported in Mobile County and 500 in Baldwin County.

“We believe the USA Cancer Institute will have a significant economic impact for Mobile, attracting patients from the surrounding areas, creating high-tech jobs and providing up to $50 million for the local economy over the next five years,” Moulton said.

“There’s also great potential for creating new products, companies and jobs from patents and new medical technology that is developed at the USA Cancer Institute.”

The Institute will be located at USA’s Knollwood Hospital campus, and involve other units within the USA Health System – the College of Medicine, USA Medical Center, and Children’s and Women’s Hospital.

The USA Cancer Institute will serve an area of 42 Gulf Coast counties in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, representing more than 2.5 million people who have no comprehensive academic-level cancer center or research institute. Each year 6,000 people die of cancer in this service area, according to state and federal statistics.

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