Timothy Schultheiss, Ph.D., digs into data on a daily basis. Fortunately for patients, these numbers make a difference in their cancer treatment— and their lives.
Armed with a physics doctorate from Brown University, Schultheiss joined City of Hope in 2001 as director of Radiation Physics for the Department of Radiation Oncology
. A radiation physicist is a scientist who helps plan complex radiation treatments and ensures that all treatment planning calculations are performed correctly.
Schultheiss got in on the ground floor of the modern-day era of his field. His graduate work looked at using computers to optimize radiation therapy, a seemingly commonplace idea — except that it was 1979, two years before IBM released its first personal computer.
He’s by no means the stereotypical math nerd, though. With his soft southern drawl, he is self-assured and quick to humor. He spent much of his early career on the East Coast, but it wasn’t just the mild climate that eventually pulled him to Southern California. He was drawn to his City of Hope colleagues’ commitment to compassion.
“The people at City of Hope are really invested in their patients,” he explained. “It’s not just a job for these people; not just ‘8 to 5.’ They’ll go out of their way for patients. That wasn’t true at other places I’ve worked.”
The timber of his voice suggests he holds that same concern. That’s important for a director of 11 physicists, technicians and other radiation experts striving to deliver some of the most technologically intricate and precise treatments available.
, which combines high-resolution imaging, complex computing, and intensity-modulated radiation therapy in the most advanced package available. TomoTherapy targets cancer with unprecedented accuracy, so physicians can attack tumors with greater doses of radiation while minimizing the radiation that spills over to healthy tissues.
“The dose is so focused,” Schultheiss said, “that we not only lower the exposure to healthy tissues, but we can ramp up the exposure to the cancer in many cases.”
This targeting capability led to City of Hope being the first in the world to treat multiple myeloma using TomoTherapy as part of an investigational hematopoietic cell transplant therapy. Now the institution is bringing this same focus for cancers that have spread to lymph nodes and other parts of the body, he added.
Schultheiss is proud of the progress his team is making in the field.
“We’re doing things now that we hadn’t conceived of when I got into this field,” he said. And it doesn’t take a math whiz to see their work adding up to even more advances in the years to come.