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Alum profile: The next generation of cancer treatment

Treating cancer, without a doubt, is one of the most pressing challenges in the medical field. Over the past 50 years, proton radiation has finally emerged as one of the most technologically advanced methods to treat cancerous tumors – but the system is expensive and complicated to implement.

As Vice President of Engineering at ProTom International, Dan Raymond, MSEM ’13, and the company are trying to make proton radiation more accessible to cancer patients and doctors.

“We have developed a next-generation proton therapy system that produces proton radiation for treating cancerous tumors,” Raymond says. “The technology has been around for 50 years – our product is the next generation of the technology.”

Raymond describes proton radiation as “an invisible pencil beam” directed precisely at the tumor site. Patients lie comfortably in a treatment room while protons are accelerated to a specific energy level and magnetically guided to point locations within the tumor site area.

Proton radiation is very effective in targeting cancerous tumors that are close to vital organs or critical structures. Traditional photon radiation destroys both the bad cells and good cells in the radiation path, which leads to secondary effects.

“With proton radiation, we can control precisely where the radiation is hitting, as well as the depth, which is very key,” Raymond says. It is especially effective for treating young children with tumors in difficult-to-reach or small sites.

Currently, there are only a handful of hospitals in the country that have a proton radiation system because the device is so physically large and expensive to run. Typical proton therapy systems use particle accelerators with very large electro-magnets weighing hundreds of tons, and requiring facilities with special provisions to install and operate the equipment.

ProTom’s system is smaller, more modular, and less expensive. “Our goal is to be able to get the cost of it and the installation time down so that a regular community hospital can afford it,” Raymond says.

Raymond has worked with ProTom since 2013, having taken on increased leadership responsibilities since finishing the MSEM program. He studied electrical engineering as an undergraduate at University of Massachusetts, and after working as an engineer for many years, faced a career decision that STEM professionals often face.

“Typically, in the technical world, you come to the point in your career where you have to decide whether to go down the path of being a technical guru, or go down the path of technical management and leadership,” he says.

Raymond chose the latter path, which led him to the Tufts MSEM program in 2011. He says the courses on Leading Teams and Organizations as well as Humanistic Perspectives on Leadership have been particularly helpful in his career.

The coursework has helped Raymond overcome some of the challenges in expanding the reach of ProTom’s product. For example, he leads a team of suppliers that are based all over the world, and must work across many different languages, cultures, and time zones.

“As a VP of Engineering, if you ask what drives me every day, it’s about having a successful outcome as a team,” Raymond says.

Most importantly, he has carried many lessons from the Humanistic Perspectives course into his career and leadership philosophy, and is dedicated to working for tech companies that are making a positive impact on society.

“The job I do now is aiming to help people in a major way,” Raymond says.