Jul 8, 2024 Monmouth Medical Center Introduces Three Innovative Technologies in Lung Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

New robotic platform technologies are helping transform early lung cancer diagnoses

Shown third from right, Dr. Richard Lazzaro, Chief of Thoracic Surgery for the RWJBarnabas Health Southern Region, gathers with, third from left, President and CEO Eric Carney and members of the Ion team, including, from left, Lisa Garzone, NP-C, RNFA, thoracic surgeon Dr. Joseph Whitlark. Chelsea Convissar, PA-C, and Tracy Vasquez, Thoracic/Robotic Surgical Coordinator.

Long Branch, NJ, June 28, 2024 – Monmouth Medical Center (MMC), an RWJBarnabas Health facility, has introduced three new advanced highly precise technologies used to both diagnose and treat lung cancer. RWJBarnabas Health, together with Rutgers Cancer Institute, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, brings the most advanced treatment options close to home.

Monmouth Medical Center was the second in New Jersey and the first in central and southern New Jersey to introduce Ion, a robot-assisted platform designed to enable minimally invasive lung biopsies that may become a key part of early diagnosis. The hospital recently reached the milestone of its 100th Ion case and continues to expand the advanced capabilities of its thoracic oncology program.

Dr. Richard Lazzaro — Chief of Thoracic Surgery for the RWJBarnabas Health Southern Region and a renowned national leader in the field who has pioneered many groundbreaking firsts in robotic thoracic surgery — describes this new robotic technology as a game-changer in early detection of lung cancer as it enhances reach, precision, and stability for lung biopsies and affords doctors access to all segments of the lung.

“Ion’s ability to navigate to small nodules and enable precise biopsies can help patients with suspicious lung nodules get answers sooner, potentially enabling more time to consider treatment options,” said Dr. Lazzaro, a board-certified thoracic surgeon with more than 30 years of specialized experience in minimally invasive and robotic surgery.

According to Dr. Lazzaro, its unique design allows doctors to navigate tiny bends and curves of the lung airways.

“If a patient’s doctor recommends a lung biopsy to examine an abnormal growth, the Ion robotic-assisted bronchoscopy is a minimally invasive option that is highly precise, and allows us to quickly provide patients with the answers they need following biopsy,” he said. “Ion replaces conventional bronchoscopy’s thick catheter and manual guidance with an ultrathin catheter, GPS-like navigation, and robotic assistance. This gives us a stable, steerable system that can even travel through tiny, winding airways in the lungs’ outer edges.”

Additionally, MMC is the first hospital in New Jersey to offer new, minimally invasive technology to ablate lung lesions called the Aliya PEF System. Utilized in conjunction with the Ion robot, the system delivers high-voltage, high-frequency electrical currents through a single monopolar electrode designed to ablate the targeted cancer cells.

Thoracic surgeon Dr. Joseph Whitlark, a member of the RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group, performed MMC’s first ablation using the PEF System. The PEF energy destabilizes the cells, resulting in cell death without requiring thermal processes, while preserving the surrounding healthy tissue.

“This innovative technique is unlike anything we’ve seen, as it appears to stimulate the patient’s own immune system to activate against the tumor,” said Dr. Whitlark. “Early clinical studies indicate the potential for releasing antigens and immune system stimulation. We are excited to be the first hospital in New Jersey to offer this technology.”

FDA approved for the treatment of solid cancerous tumors, the Aliya system combined with the Ion technology offer patients the potential benefit of not needing to come back to the operating room for a second procedure, as diagnosis and treatment can in certain cases occur at the same time.

Most recently, the hospital became the first in New Jersey to introduce intraoperative AI-driven CT imaging for use with the Ion. LungVision is a breakthrough innovation in lung cancer diagnosis, according to Dr. Benjamin Medina, a Rutgers Cancer Institute thoracic surgeon who specializes in thoracic surgical oncology.

“Intraoperative imaging has a profound impact on the ability to successfully diagnose patients, and this advanced technology enhances the robotic bronchoscopy platform with real-time imaging,” says Dr. Medina. “It is the only navigation system that is not reliant on preoperative CT and benefits to patients include less radiation exposure and less time spent in surgery.”

“We are proud to be able to introduce these amazing new technologies as a part of our commitment to delivering the highest level of thoracic care to our patients,” said Monmouth Medical Center President and CEO Eric Carney. “In pioneering these firsts, our team has a singular focus – that is on the best patient outcomes.”

Monmouth Medical Center created the region’s first robotic surgery program – and it remains one of the busiest robotic surgery programs in the state.

For patients diagnosed with lung cancer, the hospital’s integrated cancer care model in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute, includes the state’s largest network of cancer specialists. This team emphasizes the most comprehensive, compassionate care including a full panel discussion at each point in treatment through weekly multidisciplinary thoracic oncology tumor board meetings, as well as access to the most advanced treatment options and clinical trials, many of which are only available at NCI-designated cancer centers.

Learn more about MMC’s Lung Cancer Program. To schedule an appointment with one of our thoracic cancer specialists call 844-CANCERNJ.

About Monmouth Medical Center

Monmouth Medical Center (MMC), an RWJBarnabas Health facility, along with The Unterberg Children’s Hospital, is a regional teaching campus for Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. As the first hospital in Monmouth and Ocean counties, MMC offers the most experienced surgeons in robotics and other minimally invasive procedures as well as bariatric and joint and spine surgery. MMC delivers more babies annually than all other hospitals in Monmouth and Ocean counties combined. The hospital offers access to the region’s top cardiologists and the award-winning, nationally recognized RWJBarnabas Heart Centers. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) has conferred Magnet® recognition for MMC, one of just 509 U.S. health care organizations out of more than 6,300 U.S. hospitals to achieve Magnet recognition. MMC has received more “A” Hospital Safety Scores from The Leapfrog Group, an independent national nonprofit organization, than any other hospital in the region. The hospital has also been named a Leapfrog Top Teaching Hospital three times. MMC is one of just 414 of the more than 6,000 hospital hospitals in the U.S. named to Newsweek's Global Best Hospitals' list for three consecutive years, and one of 148 U.S. hospitals named to the digital platform Money’s inaugural list of the Best Hospitals in America. Additionally, it is one of 34 U.S. hospitals honored by the Emergency Nurses Association with the 2022–2025 Lantern Award for excellence in emergency care, and for the eighth consecutive year, was honored by Healthgrades with the Obstetrics and Gynecology and Labor and Delivery Excellence Awards. U.S. News & World Report, the global authority in hospital rankings and consumer advice, has recognized MMC among the 2023-2024 Best Hospitals for Maternity Care, which identifies hospitals that provide high-quality maternity care for uncomplicated pregnancies. RWJBarnabas Health and MMC, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute— the state's only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center — brings a world class team of researchers and specialists to fight alongside patients, providing close-to-home access to the latest treatment and clinical trials.