10 February 2020

Patients of the Proton Therapy Center at the Berezin Sergey Medical Institute (MIBS) met with one of the Marvel Comics authors, American comic books writer Steve Englehart. Steve flew to the St. Petersburg Proton Center, to unveil his new comic book The Intrepid Proton-Man.

The Proton-Man character and the comic book about him were created by the author as part of his charity work in 2016 specifically for children undergoing proton beam therapy. The comic book was published in Russian in a limited edition for non-commercial use with the permission of Steve and Varian Medical Systems which commissioned the book.

Varian is one of the world's largest manufacturers of proton therapy equipment; it was the company that supplied the cyclotron and gantry systems to the MIBS Center. Therefore, it makes sense that Proton-Man came first to the young patients of the proton center. The man in the cape and super-hero mask became a new addition to a long list of characters Steve Englehart worked on for Marvel and DC Comics: Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Doctor Strange, Captain America, the Avengers...

The Intrepid Proton-Man comic book presents the entire treatment process in a child-friendly way. The story helps kids associate their treatment experience at the clinic with the Proton-Man, who Dr. Miles transforms into onсe he puts on the costume of the super-hero. Using his magical superpowers, Proton- Man infiltrates the lair of the disease, King Crab's castle, and, attacking time after time, destroys the enemy. "From my point of view it's very important that this book is educational, it's not just a Marvel character who is Proton-Man, but it's also such a learning tool for the little patients of our center. They begin to understand why they need masks, why they need anesthesia, why they have to go through all of this at all, and it helps a lot," commented Arkady Stolpner, Chairman of the Board of MIBS.

The second mission of the comic book is to raise awareness about proton therapy - an innovative method of radiation therapy which is not yet available in all countries. For example, in Russia proton treatment only began at the end of 2017, when the first clinical proton therapy center was launched in St. Petersburg. Since then, more than 600 people have been treated at the MIBS Proton Center, more than 55% of whom are children. Today, more than 50 patients under the age of 18 undergo treatment at the Center every day.

Proton therapy is the most effective and sparing type of radiation treatment of cancer. Due to the minimal impact on the healthy structures surrounding the tumor, this treatment has an advantage over traditional (photon) radiation therapy as its side effects are much rarer and less pronounced. Proton therapy decreases by an order of magnitude the risk of secondary cancers, often occurring on the treatment site 10-15 years after the photon radiation therapy. Since high doses of radiation are delivered to the target with sub-millimeter precision, proton therapy has virtually no negative impact on the physical, mental and intellectual development of children. Therefore, it is proton therapy that is recognized worldwide as the optimal method of radiation treatment for pediatric patients.

After a tour of the Center, led for Steve and his wife Terry by MIBS Chairman of the Board Arkady Stolpner, Steve Englehart told reporters how he worked on the comic book about Proton-Man. "The manufacturers of proton therapy equipment that helps effectively fight cancer suggested that I write a story. I delved deep into the subject, traveling to hospitals, meeting with children, doctors. I tried to understand how important it was for young patients to have their own hero to inspire them," Steve says. "Our idea is to give kids as much information as possible so they know what to expect during treatment. The adult characters in the comic are also based on real doctors. It's important to us to make the child’s experience more entertaining and less scary," he explained.

It was a really exciting event for the children: at the celebration of the arrival of Proton-Man to Russia, they enjoyed playing superhero games, had their faces painted by makeup artists to get the chosen superpower, were photographed against the backdrop poster of Proton-Man. Using colorful markers they had fun transforming individual restraining masks into Spider-Man, Hulk, Superman. And at the end of the event they received presents with the image of the superhero and comic books with Steve's autograph.

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