Friday, December 14, 2007
Fighting cancer with radio waves
Kanzius'story began eight years ago, when the successful businessman from Erie, Pennsylvania, retired to Sanibel Island, Florida. Kanzius thought he'd fish, relax and maybe dabble in some small radio stations. Instead he ended up fighting leukemia. Doctors didn't give him much hope at first... until he began treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. With state-of-the-art treatments, Kanzius improved. But the scars of cancer remained with him. He was haunted by the faces of others who were also stricken with the disease. He "saw way too many young people die before their time." He was determined to do something.
The effects of chemotherapy kept him up at night, so Kanzius did a lot of thinking.
He used his radio engineering background and equipment, and his wife, Marianne's, pots and pans, to design a machine that used radio waves to heat and possibly kill cells.
He had never gone to medical school and had no real background in science, but he gained a patent for the machine. He then showed it to his oncologist at M.D. Anderson. Dr. Michael Keating found the concept attractive, because the treatment would kill off cancer cells without invading a patient's body. "It was the power of a good idea," Keating said.
Keating showed it to surgical oncologist, Dr. Steven Curley, who thought of using microscopic metal bits, known as nanoparticles as heat conductors. The idea was to inject the particles into tumors, direct radio waves at the tumor and heat the particles to destroy the cancer cells.
Keating also was treating a Nobel Laureate, Dr. Richard Smalley, who specialized in nanotechnology. Smalley was skeptical about Kanzius' machine, but was willing to loan nanoparticles to the project - just to see what would happen.
After testing the machine, the results were promising. So promising that Curley continued his research with the device and found liver tumors in animal subjects did shrink. Curley knew he was on to something, "If we can target these nanoparticles to get into the cancer cells, and then do this treatment, there won't be a lot of side effects that people usually associate with chemotherapy."
Doctors hope the machine will eventually be used to fight all types of cancers - from breast cancer to liver tumors. But human trials are at least three to four years away. The ironic thing is Kanzius' machine is designed to target cancer cells and send the radio waves directly to the tumor area. That might not work in Kanzius' case, because he has a form of leukemia, which is a fluid cancer. That means the cancer cells flow through the body and would be more difficult to zero in on.
But Kanzius said he never invented the machine for himself, he just wanted to help people he saw who were suffering.
"The medical world is going to say we need to treat people's cancers in a more humane way if nothing else," Kanzius said. "I hope I have changed the prevailing thinking of the medical world."
John Kanzius: one man and his machine making a difference.
Do you think one person can make a difference in the medical community? Tell us about that person.
Writer's Note: One of the wonderful things about my job is I get to meet fascinating and inspirational people. When I interviewed John Kanzius at his home in Sanibel and met his wife Marianne, I found them to be two of the most positive, uplifting people I had ever met, even though John is fighting a life-threatening illness. They truly believe that John's machine can make a difference in the world of cancer treatment. Now in the hands of some of the best doctors in the country, it is possible that Kanzius' invention may eventually treat those diagnosed with cancer. I hope to report on the machine's progress as it goes forward towards human trials.
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