Monday, March 3, 2008

Cure for cancer? Sanibel man may be on to something

Cancer patient came up with treatment while sick

By JENNIFER BOOTH REED • • March 3, 2008

In a laboratory at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, researchers injected nanoparticles into tumors they had grown in rabbits. They placed the animals on a special machine that would direct radio waves at the tumor site. They flipped a switch.

The waves heated the nanoparticles and bang! Within seconds, the nanoparticles released enough heat to kill the cancer cells. No drugs, no radiation, no surgery, no apparent side effects and the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor remained unscathed.

In a laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, another research team tried a similar experiment, this time on rats. It, too, was a success.

Imagine the implications for humans.

It looks like John Kanzius was right.

The part-time Sanibel resident dreamed up the radio wave therapy four-plus years ago, sick from chemotherapy himself and saddened by a glimpse of children receiving the drugs at the hospital where he underwent treatment.

Now, the research is emerging to back his theory.

Kanzius was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002. As he went through those initial rounds of chemotherapy, he told himself there had to be a better way.

Kanzius, 64, is a former radio and television station owner from Pennsylvania with no medical background but, clearly, an uncanny mind for figuring things out.Sick and sleepless, Kanzius built his prototype at his Sanibel home in eight weeks during the fall of 2003. It’s still in his garage.

His first experiments had been on hot dogs injected with copper sulfate. Could he, he wondered, “transmit” the radio frequency directly to the afflicted areas?

Radio waves have been used before in a cancer treatment known as ablation. Doctors insert needles into a tumor and deliver radio waves to the site. The energy heats and destroys the malignant tissue. But the technique can damage healthy tissue, not to mention force the patient to endure the invasive insertions.

Kanzius’ model solves both problems.

Dr. Steven Curley of M.D. Anderson published his team’s results in the December 2007 issue of the journal Cancer. Dr. David Geller at the University of Pittsburgh presented his team’s research abstract two weeks ago at the annual Academic Surgical Congress in Huntington Beach, Calif.

“It is far enough along that we’re talking about human trials,” Kanzius said on a recent afternoon.

Kanzius and Curley will give a public talk Tuesday at South Fort Myers High School where they’ll recount the tale of this businessman-turned-patient-turned-inventor-turned-researcher, tell the community about ongoing research and outline what’s next in turning Kanzius’ idea into medical reality.

“It’s a pretty remarkable story,” said Curley from his lab in Texas. “In 20 years, I’ve never run into somebody who had something that I thought was viable.”

“In the last year we’ve made excellent progress,” Geller said.

The doctors are heartened.

So is Kanzius.

“If you got the treatment, you wouldn’t even know it,” he said.

Promising as it is, the research is just beginning.

“Does it just stun the cancer or does it disappear?” asked Geller, posing one of many questions his team must answer.

Other questions: Will the machine need to be adapted for larger animals and then for humans? Will there be different strategies to treat different kinds of cancer? And, how can doctors get the nanoparticles to seek out and latch onto only the cancer cells? So far, they have injected the particles directly into tumors, which is of limited value if a cancer has spread.

In Texas, Curley ticked off another list of questions: What’s the best kind of nanoparticle to use and in what dose? How should the nanoparticle be shaped and do some shapes conduct heat better than others? Are the nanoparticles nontoxic, as they appear to be? Only longer-term toxicity studies will tell.

He continued: Is the therapy better suited for some kinds of cancer over others? Should any drugs be taken along with the radio wave therapy to increase its effectiveness?

He’s encouraged by the early success.

“The heating was unbelievable,” Curley said. “We’re literally thinking in terms where this lasts no more than 30 to 60 seconds.”

Six months before his diagnosis, Kanzius had intended to retire.

Cancer — both his ongoing treatment and his search for an alternative — has become a full-time job.

His story by now has been played out in media ranging from local outfits in Lee County and hometown Erie, Pa., to The Los Angeles Times to Readers Digest to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. You can watch a video of a television interview replay on MySpaceTV. The posted description begins “This guy rocks.”

In his spare time, Kanzius works on an equally promising find in alternative fuel development. He discovered that salt water will burn when it’s subjected to the radio field his machine casts and lit with a match. But that’s a story for another day.

Kanzius doesn’t want to be known as the guy who cured cancer.

“I just want to be the guy that comes up with the idea and is working with the researchers,” he said.

Last week he went to M.D. Anderson for another round of tests for his own cancer and to see the progress Curley had made.

“It’s just phenomenal,” Kanzius said.

He wants to offer encouragement — that’s why he holds public talks — but doesn’t want to give false hope.

His cancer appears to be at bay. Preliminary results suggest his last round of treatment was effective. And Curley’s research is speeding at rates uncommon in the medical world.

“Nobody could have ever thought this was possible,” Kanzius said.

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