Abram Gordon

Q&A with Abram Gordon, executive director of Cincinnati Children’s pediatric proton center

September 13, 2016
by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor
HealthCare Business News spoke with Abram Gordon, the executive director of the brand new pediatric proton therapy center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, which opened on Aug. 8, 2016.

HCB News: What inspired you to get involved in health care?
It’s kind of interesting. In 2002, I started what I thought would be a relatively short gig with the largest adult oncology group in Cincinnati — OHC. I was in a transition period from a previous job and I knew the CEO of OHC. They were looking for another general counsel. My background is in law, so I joined them.

HCB News: How did you get involved with Cincinnati Children’s?
One of the areas at my previous job that I spent a lot of time with was the radiation oncology part of the practice. We had some relationships with Children’s. When Children’s started to plan for a proton therapy center, they came to the group, and me in particular, to talk about their plans and to see if our group would be a participant in the project. I kept in contact with them over the three and a half years before they broke ground. Soon after the project broke ground, they approached me to become the executive director.

HCB News: How long was the process to get the proton therapy center up and running?
The first thoughts of doing it started around 2008. Plans started moving in earnest in 2010. And we broke ground about January 2014.

HCB News: Did you model your center after anyone else?
We visited many, many different centers all over the country, and in fact, across the world as we went into the process of selecting a design, and even vendors. What’s different with those centers is that they’re all designed as adult centers that treat kids. We’re one of the only centers built from the ground up as a pediatric center. We looked at the best ideas from other centers, but none of them were built with the ideas that we had.

HCB News: What are the unique aspects?
The equipment is the same. But other things, things that would appeal to kids, are unique. So there are aspects that other centers don’t take into consideration. Things like the color schemes and layout, for example. We also have a whole child life staff of experts that are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. It’s their full-time job to meet with the kids and help them understand and appreciate what’s going on and work with them to make it as much of a non-event as possible and make them as comfortable during the process as possible.

HCB News: What are your near- and long-term goals for the center?
It’s a little bit bifurcated. One of the things we pride ourselves in is our commitment to research. Our investment in research and bringing top researchers in has really allowed us to provide cutting-edge care to kids. We have the only treatment gantry in any facility in the world that’s solely dedicated to children. For the clinical side, our goals are to attract the best talent and give the most cost-effective care. On research, it’s to solve the biggest problems, to be able to use this to find what the best care is for kids as well as adults.

HCB News: What do you think are the biggest untapped opportunities?
I think the opportunity, in reality, is [in] where our research in this area takes us. There’s been a ton of research into conventional radiation therapy, but there hasn’t been nearly as much research into proton therapy. People really don’t know how it kills cancer cells, the way they know how conventional radiation does it. We don’t yet know the treatments, using a combination of drugs and protons, to make proton therapy most effective. We don’t know if certain cancer cells will react differently to traditional radiation compared to proton therapy, so I think the biggest challenges are unlocking some of those mysteries.

HCB News: What advancements do you predict for proton therapy in the next decade?
I think there are a couple of different answers. There’s recently been a significant advancement in delivery method, from passive scanner to pencil beam, where you can create almost a ball of radiation that conforms to the tumor. From the treatment delivery side, we’re at the cutting edge, so there probably won’t be a lot of advancements in that area in the next 10 years. It will be about other aspects of the equipment. Smaller and less expensive systems will probably come to market. Right now, we’re going to be about the 24th center to open, and in the next 10 years there will be a lot more as the price comes down.

The other piece involves the advancements in proton therapy. As there are more centers and more spent on research, it very well could be more effective in the future and people will have a better understanding of when to use different types of radiation therapies.