2000’s: International Acclaim
When Dr. Bonner was hired as the department’s third Chair, those that hired him had aspirations that he’d elevate the program to an international level.
During this ascent, several grand achievements highlighted the decade, but Dr. Bonner’s own Cetuximab research has been recognized worldwide, changing the standard of care in treating head & neck cancers. After his research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, it was cited as one of the top six most important cancer discoveries for 2006. New therapeutic devices and radioimmunotherapy (RIT) agents advanced from clinical trials and into clinical use, including Zevalin and Bexxar. The efforts of Dr. Meredith were instrumental in gaining the FDA-approval of both agents.
Dr. Bonner was interested in providing patients with a facility that combined medical oncology care and radiation oncology care in the same location. John Brinkerhoff, R.Ph., MBA, then-current Executive Administrator of the department, worked with Dr. Bonner to take The Kirklin Clinic at Acton Road from dream to reality. The facility opened in 2002 and quickly became a popular destination for cancer care for patients throughout the region. Initially equipped with both a Varian linear accelerator and a Tomotherapy unit, this facility also provided patients with ample parking and outside-the-city convenience, with the same high quality care offered at the core facility. While many other medical disciplines also practice in this facility, cancer care is still the primary activity here. The Tomotherapy unit was the first FDA-approved IGRT device. Jennifer De Los Santos is the primary Radiation Oncologist on site, but many other faculty members from the core facility at UAB also regularly see patients here. Kay Honeycutt led the administrative effort to open this facility and Ginna Blaylock acts as director of operations today.
The department’s medical residency program continued its growth in both size and stature, and began accepting two new residents each year, and by mid-decade, yielding a total of eight in the program at any given time. Besides attracting some of the nation’s top medical school talent, the UAB residency program has yielded excellent rankings and board scores. “We’ve consistently ranked among the top ten percentile among all training programs in board scores,” noted John Fiveash, M.D. We continue to be one of the few programs to offer post-residency fellowships. The program also had the nation’s top-ranked score on the physics portion of the exam in 2000. Additionally, the UAB Radiation Therapist training program continued to grow. All therapists-in-training began regular rotations through both our core and The Kirklin Clinic at Acton Road facilities.
RapidArc™ was another first in the department’s history. Richard Popple, Ph.D., led the effort to take this new technology from Varian Medical Systems into direct patient care. In April 2008, the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology became the first site in the United States to treat a patient with this technology. The clinical implications of RapidArc™ include improved speed of treatment, which improves a patient’s level of comfort, and potentially improved targeting, which can lead to improved outcomes. In all, three new Varian linear accelerators and one Tomotherapy unit were commissioned into operation during the decade, in addition to many other state-of-the-art technologies. Stereotactic radiosurgery procedures are performed regularly by our physicians in a collaborative effort at the UAB Highlands facility. A number of other therapies are also offered, including High-Dose Rate (HDR) and Low Dose Rate (LDR) treatments, and treatments with a number of experimental agents as well. UAB Radiation Oncology installed the Aria Treatment Planning platform upon its initial release. The pediatrics program, which is the only such program in the state, continued to expand during the decade and future growth is anticipated into the next decade.