Emma’s coming

Emma is on her way. By ship. By specialized truck. And by crane.

Emma is the cyclotron destined for the new University at Alabama at Birmingham Proton Therapy Center. A cyclotron is the central piece of precision equipment that will deliver cancer-treating proton therapy at the UAB center. The center, owned by Proton International, a leader in the field of proton therapy, is currently under construction on the UAB campus.

Emma, who was built in Germany by Varian, a longtime partner with UAB in delivering radiation therapy, weighs about 180,000 pounds and is a $25 million investment. Getting her to UAB is a complicated task.

She departed Zeebrugge, Belgium, on Feb. 3 aboard the vehicle carrier MV Tugela. The website www.marinetraffic.com can be used to track her progress. The Atlantic Ocean crossing will take about 10-15 days.

She will off-load at the Georgia Ports Authority facility in Brunswick, Georgia. She will then be loaded onto a specialized truck, with 20 axles, 78 wheels and two drivers — one in the cab and one in back, as in a fire department ladder truck — for the road journey to Birmingham.

The truck, which can carry 300,000 pounds, is articulated in six sections, meaning it can turn at multiple points to navigate narrow roadways. It will be a slow journey, with an average speed of around 17 miles per hour.

A specialized crane, capable of lifting Emma, will be constructed at the site of the UAB Proton Therapy Center, Fourth Avenue South at 20th Street. The target date for lifting Emma and lowering her through the roof of the mostly completed facility is Feb. 28. Following a year of tests and calibration, UAB anticipates opening the facility in spring 2020.

The UAB Department of Radiation Oncology will use Emma to deliver highly precise proton beams instead of traditional X-rays to attack tumors. Proton therapy is available at only 25 locations in the United States, most associated with academic medical centers.

Proton therapy is used to treat tumors of the brain and central nervous system, spine, head and neck, lung, prostate, liver, and gastrointestinal tract and colon, and some breast tumors.

UAB will provide updates throughout February on Emma’s progress.