Dr. Carl J. Rossi, Jr. is a wiry running enthusiast who clocks 30 to 40 miles a week, a private pilot who has logged 4,000 flying hours, and a radiation oncologist who has treated 9,000 prostate cancer patients with “state-of-the-art” proton radiation over the past 20 years, more than any other physician in the world.
Rossi, 49, is also the newly-recruited medical director of the $220 million Scripps Proton Therapy Center being built in Mira Mesa and scheduled to open in spring 2013.
When completed and fully-staffed, the 102,000-square-foot facility, the second such hospital-based facility in California, will be able to treat up to 2,400 patients annually.
The construction is on schedule; the building is almost 90 percent complete, and the giant cyclotron and other equipment have been installed.
“What’s going to take the next year is finishing up the construction and “commissioning the machine, turning it on, making sure it works as designed and begin doing a lot of physical measurements in the treatment rooms so we know what radiation dose is being delivered under certain circumstances,” Rossi said.
Rossi’s job at the moment is to brief insurers on the treatments that will be available, and talking to local physicians and radiation oncologists to find ways they can be involved with the center, and starting to recruit oncologists that will staff the center.
Prior to joining Scripps, Rossi, for 20 years, served as chief of genito-urinary and lymphoma radiation oncology services at Loma Linda University Medical Center and director of the first and currently the only hospital-based proton therapy center in California.
Currently, there are nine proton therapy patient treatment centers in the U.S. and only 37 worldwide.
The high cost of the cyclotron, the powerhouse behind proton technology, and its sophisticated supportive equipment, has restricted wider use of proton therapy throughout the world since it was first conceived for use as a cancer fighting therapy in 1946 and first used to treat patients in 1954.
The Scripps proton treatment center is being developed by Advanced Particle Therapy (APT), LLC, of San Diego. APT has arranged the financing to build and equip the center. APT will also manage the building and maintain the equipment.
Scripps Clinic Medical Group (SCMG) is overseeing the medical services at the facility and Scripps Health will provide its clinical management services.
Proton therapy is considered one of the most advanced methods of treating cancer tumors because of its ability to accurately accelerate a beam of high dosage radiation, in the form of protons, positively charged atomic particles, to the DNA of cancer cells, ultimately causing their death or interfering with their ability to proliferate, while sparing more of the surrounding healthy tissue than does traditional X-ray radiation therapy.
Cancerous cells are particularly vulnerable to attacks on their DNA because of their high rate of dividing and their reduced abilities to repair DNA damage.
We interviewed Dr. Rossi in his office at the Scripps Annex building on Campus Point Drive in La Jolla.