- Apr 14, 2008 7:11 am US/Eastern
Well it's true, and if you think it sounds improbable, consider this: he did it with his wife's pie pans and hot dogs.
His name is John Kanzius, and he's a former businessman and radio technician who built a radio wave machine that has cancer researchers so enthusiastic about its potential they're pouring money and effort into testing it out.
Here's the important part: if clinical trials pan out-and there's still a long way to go-the Kanzius machine will zap cancer cells all through your body without the need for drugs or surgery and without side effects. None at all. At least that's the idea.
The last thing John Kanzius thought he'd ever do was try to cure cancer. A former radio and television executive from Pennsylvania, he came to Florida to enjoy his retirement.
"I have no business being in the cancer business. It's not something that a layman like me should be in, it should be left to doctors and research people," he told correspondent Lesley Stahl.
"But sometimes it takes an outsider," Stahl remarked.
"Sometimes it just - maybe you get lucky," Kanzius replied.
It was the worst kind of luck that gave Kanzius the idea to use radio waves to kill cancer cells: six years ago, he was diagnosed with terminal leukemia and since then has undergone 36 rounds of toxic chemotherapy. But it wasn't his own condition that motivated him, it was looking into the hollow eyes of sick children on the cancer ward at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
"I saw the smiles of youth and saw their spirits were broken. And you could see that they were sort of asking, 'Why can't they do something for me?'" Kanzius told Stahl.
"So they started to haunt you. The children," Stahl asked.
"Their faces. I still remember them holding on their Teddy bears and so forth," he replied. "And shortly after that I started my own chemotherapy, my third round of chemotherapy."
Kanzius told Stahl the chemotherapy made him very sick and that he couldn't sleep at night. "And I said, 'There's gotta be a better way to treat cancer.'"
It was during one of those sleepless nights that the light bulb went off. When he was young, Kanzius was one of those kids who built radios from scratch, so he knew the hidden power of radio waves. Sick from chemo, he got out of bed, went to the kitchen, and started to build a radio wave machine.
"Started looking in the cupboard and I saw pie pans and I said, 'These are perfect. I can modify these,'" he recalled.
His wife Marianne woke up that night to a lot of banging and clamoring. "I was concerned truthfully that he had lost it," she told Stahl.
"She felt sorry for me," Kanzius added.
"I did," Marianne Kanzius acknowledged. "And I had mentioned to him, 'Honey, the doctors can't-you know, find an answer to cancer. How can you think that you can?'"
That's what 60 Minutes wanted to know, so Stahl went to his garage laboratory to find out.
Here's how it works: one box sends radio waves over to the other, creating enough energy to activate gas in a fluorescent light. Kanzius put his hand in the field to demonstrate that radio waves are harmless to humans.
"So right from the beginning you're trying to show that radio waves could activate gas and not harm the human-anything else," Stahl remarked. "'Cause you're looking for some kind of a treatment with no side effects, that's what's in your head."
"No side effects," Kanzius replied.
But how could he focus the radio waves to destroy cancer cells?
"That was the next $64,000 question," Kanzius said.
The answer would cost much more than that. Kanzius spent about $200,000 just to have a more advanced version of his machine built. He knew that metal heats up when it's exposed to high-powered radio waves. So what if a tumor was injected with some kind of metal, and zapped with a focused beam of radio waves? Would the metal heat up and kill the cancer cells, but leave the area around them unharmed? He did his first test with hot dogs.
"I'm going to inject it with some copper sulfate," Kanzius explained, demonstrating the machine. "And I'm going to take the probe right at the injection site."
Kanzius placed the hot dog in his radio wave machine, and Stahl watched to see if the temperature would rise in that one area where the metal solution was and nowhere else.
"And when I saw it start to go up I said, 'Eureka, I've done it,'" Kanzius remembered. "And I said, 'God, I gotta shut this off and see whether it's still cold down below.' So I shut it off, took my probe, went down here where it wasn't injected. And the temperature dropped back down. And I said, 'God, maybe I got something here.'"
Kanzius thought he had found a way attack cancer cells without the collateral damage caused by chemotherapy and radiation. Today, his invention is in the laboratories of two major research centers - the University of Pittsburgh and M.D. Anderson, where Dr. Steven Curley, a liver cancer surgeon, is testing it.
"This technology may allow us to treat just about any kind of cancer you can imagine," Dr. Curley told Stahl. "I've gotta tell you, in 20 years of research this is the most exciting thing that I've encountered."
That's because Kanzius impressed Curley with another remarkable idea: to combine the radio waves from his device with something cutting edge - space age nanoparticles made of metal or carbon. They are so small that thousands of them can fit in a single cancer cell. Because they're metallic, Kanzius was hoping his radio waves would them heat up and kill the cancer.
"If these nanoparticles work then we truly have something huge here," Kanzius told Stahl.
Enter Rick Smalley, another cancer patient at M.D. Anderson and the man who won the Nobel Prize for discovering nanoparticles made from carbon. As luck would have it, Dr. Curley was called in one day to examine Smalley. Before leaving, he asked him for some of his nanoparticles.
"I proceeded to tell him what I wanted to do and that I thought they would heat. He looked at me with sort of a studied long look and didn't say anything. And then he looked at me and said, 'It won't work,'" Curley remembered. "And just laughed and said, 'Well, look, I'll give you some. But don't be too disappointed.'"
So Dr. Curley brought a vial of those precious nanoparticles to John Kanzius.
And on an August day in 2005, Curley and Kanzius put them to the test. Would the metallic nanoparticles heat up enough to kill cancer?
"So we take the nanoparticles, we put 'em in the radio field. And in about 15 seconds, they're boiling and heating and Steve Curley couldn't contain himself. He called Rick Smalley and he said, 'Rick, you're not going to believe this. He just blew the smithereens out of your nanoparticles,'" Kanzius recalled.
Smalley's response? "The only thing that I got out of him after this pause was, "Holy s…,'" Curley recalled.
Not long after that day, Smalley died of lymphoma. Once a skeptic, he had become one of Kanzius' biggest supporters.
"He didn't expect it, but he embraced it to his death bed when he told Dr. Curley this will change medicine forever. Don't stop, no matter what you do," Kanzius told Stahl.
And they haven't stopped. They've already shown that the Kanzius machine can heat nanoparticles and cook cancer to death in animals. Dr. Curley with rabbits, and in Pittsburgh, Dr. David Geller demonstrated to 60 Minutes how he used nanoparticles, made from gold, to kill liver cancer cells grown in rats.
"Now what we're going to do is inject the nanoparticles," Dr. Geller explained. "Directly into the tumor."
In the study the rats, anesthetized to keep them still, were exposed to the Kanzius radio waves. Dr. Geller later examined their tumors under a microscope.
"What you can see is that cells are starting to fall apart. You see white spaces in between them. The body of the cell is shrinking, the cells are starting to die," Geller pointed out.
"And can you tell from this whether the area surrounding the tumor had any destruction?" Stahl asked.
"Grossly inspecting the animal, we did not see not see any damage to the surrounding tissue," Geller said.
So far, the Kanzius method has only been applied to solid, localized tumors in animals. The ultimate goal is to treat cancer that has metastasized or spread to other parts of the body. Those undetectable rogue cells are what most often kill people with cancer and the trick is finding them.
"If we can't target the microscopic cells this is not going to be a cure," Curley said.
That's why Curley is trying to use special molecules that are programmed to target cancer cells and attach nanoparticles to them.
He showed Stahl an animation of how he hopes the targeting will work in people one day, with a simple injection of gold nanoparticles into the bloodstream.
"What we're seeing here is an example of a gold nanoparticle in this case with an antibody on it, so the antibody would be the targeting molecule," Curley explained. "You can see it is tiny compared to a normal red blood cell just imagine all of these billions of these gold nanoparticles circulating through the body and then once they get into the blood vessels going to the tumor, these nanoparticles would go through and bind on the surface of the cell."
"The cancer cell. It wouldn't bind on a normal cell," Stahl observed.
"That's right, they would bind only to the cancer cell. Now here's the nanoparticles in the cell, here comes John's radio frequency treatment. The cells get hot and they're destroyed," Curley said.
"Gosh, it does look like one of those science fiction movies," Stahl remarked.
"Right now it is a little science fiction," Curley agreed. "We're not quite to the real time yet, but it's got a lot of promise."
Even if all goes well in the lab, it'll be at least another four years before human trials can start. But John Kanzius says he's afraid he doesn't have that much time. So to help speed up the research, he's been raising millions of dollars and getting press coverage about his invention.
"Now I can't count the number of times the journalistic community, has done stories on a cancer cure," Stahl said. "I did one in 1973. …How many times have we seen these things work in the Petri dish, work with animals. And then you get them into humans and they don't work."
"Dozens," Curley replied.
But if this one does work, it most likely won't be developed in time to help the man who invented it. John Kanzius may have the option of a bone marrow transplant that could buy him more time, but after six years of chemo it would be another grueling ordeal.
"Did you ever say, 'I'm not going to do this anymore. I'm not going to put myself through it,'?" Stahl asked.
"Yes. I said that-only about a year and a half ago," Kanzius replied. "I changed my mind because I think with all the research that's going on with the institutions, that maybe, I'd like to be around for the first patient to get treated and just have a smile."
"Oh my God," Stahl said.
"And then I don't care anymore," Kanzius replied.
(© MMVIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)