He’d been diagnosed with a rare form of B-cell leukemia in 2002, and he’d endured months of chemotherapy.
But still the cancer persisted. As he tells it: “I go into a partial remission or whatever. In another six or eight months, it’s back again. So, I go back into some more chemotherapy.”
Then one late night in 2003, unable to sleep and energized with an idea, the chemo-battered Kanzius began to tear apart the couple’s vacation home on Sanibel Island.
“Of course, I couldn’t say at that point that I’m working on a cancer treatment.” The 64-year-old Kanzius (it’s pronounced like the state) remembers thinking about the parts he’d need. And how he’d explain all this to his wife, Marianne.
“She would have found the nearest psychiatrist and said, ‘After chemotherapy tomorrow, I’ve got another appointment for you,’” he says. “So she would say, ‘What are you doing?’ And I would just tell her that I was working on some stuff for amateur radio.”
Kanzius’ goal was to focus a large number of low-frequency radio waves into a small area. The idea was to heat metal, and in turn kill cancer cells. The same thing that happens when metal is placed in a microwave oven, which uses frequencies a million times more powerful to vibrate molecules and generate heat. The metal heats up. Way up.
Get the metal into cancer cells, Kanzius reasoned, and the cells would be destroyed without harming healthy cells in the body.
He has no medical background, not even a college degree. Still, Kanzius was determined to develop a new cancer treatment, and he used his background in electronics — specifically radio frequency transmitters — to move forward.
At 22, Kanzius worked at RCA as a technical assistant. He remembers the time when the company couldn’t solve a problem with its color television transmitters, which had put RCA at odds with Federal Communications Commission specifications and some of its customers.
“I was able to do in one day what they couldn’t do in two years with all of their Ph.D.’s, and it got me well-recognized,” Kanzius says proudly. “I was able to fix that with a 50-cent part, in like an hour.”
Later, Kanzius co-owned and operated a broadcasting company in Erie, Pa., where he still lives part of the year. And he still puttered at home with his radios.
Back in Erie, Kanzius had all the requisite parts. But on the island, he had to get creative. The key ingredient turned out to be heavy-duty pie plates he found rummaging in the kitchen. His wife of 44 years would later search out the radio parts he needed.
“John is often up in the middle of the night,” she says of the early morning her husband was pulling out pie plates. “That night, he was like a man possessed. He was making an awful lot of noise and racket.
“I asked him to go back to sleep and he said, ‘I have to think about this, I can’t sleep.’ He had chemotherapy in the morning, so I was concerned.”
That second round of chemo had made Kanzius so weak he was even unable to board a plane for the funeral of his mother, who died at 83 of lung cancer in late 2003.
But he pressed on.
Soon, Kanzius’ makeshift laboratory in the garage of his Sanibel Island home took shape. Soon, he’d be injecting pieces of metal into hot dogs and liver. The machine’s waves successful heated the metal embeded in the meat. The idea of a new cancer-fighting treatment was coming together.
Soon after Kanzius acquired patents for his work, the machine was featured in a newspaper article in the Erie Times-News. That got the attention of Dr. David Geller, then co-director of the Liver Cancer Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Geller says he was skeptical at first.
Then Dr. Steven Curley got on board. Curley is a professor of surgical oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, rated No. 1 in cancer treatment by U.S. News and World Report for four of the past six years.
Curley already had been working with radio frequency treatment methods for cancer, and was part of the effort that led to U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for radio frequency ablation, a treatment that works by using a needle-like probe into — or next to — a cancerous tumor. Radio energy from the needle kills the cancer cells — but sometimes can harm surrounding tissue.
Radio frequency ablation has not been effective on more difficult-to-reach tumors, nor does it have an effect on a cancer that has metastasized, or spread to other parts of the body. And Curley’s method, one of four similar ways of using superheated probes on cancer cells, still required a device to be inserted, and then heated.
The key ingredient in the Kanzius innovation are nanoparticles — pieces of metal so small that 75,000 to 100,000 of them can fit across the tip of a human hair. They are introduced into the body where the cancer lives, and then the machine ignites them to cell-killing temperatures.
For the very first experiments, Kanzius and Curley went to Nobel laureate Rick Smalley for the nanoparticles. Smalley was skeptical that the process would work, but became a believer after the nanoparticles successfully burned when activated by the machine. And on his deathbed in October of 2005, Smalley reportedly asked Curley to promise the research would continue.
And it has.
Every experiment by researchers has led them closer to clinical trials in humans, which the researchers believe could occur in three to five years. Early experiments have demonstrated that cancer cells paired with nanoparticles can be destroyed, while leaving nearby healthy cells intact.
In an important experiment performed by Curley, pancreatic cancer cells and liver cancer cells were combined with nanoparticles in petri dishes, and then exposed to the radio frequency waves created by Kanzius’ machine. The successful results were presented in January of 2007 at a conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Then the researchers tested the theory on animals: Both Curley and Geller have reported success in destroying cancerous tumors in lab animals — using Kanzius’ machine and nanoparticles.
Curley’s success with tumors in rabbits was published in October of last year in Cancer, a medical oncology journal published by the American Cancer Society. Geller’s success treating cancerous cells in rats is expected to be published in August.
All are hopeful signs. But these breakthroughs have only worked on tumors, not cancer that has spread throughout the body.
The next step is to get the nanoparticles to hitch a ride on the body’s disease-fighting antibody cells right to the cancer, no matter where it is hiding. Patients would take a pill, or be injected with a nanoparticle-antibody cocktail. The microscopic metallic particles could then be zapped by Kanzius’ harmless radio field. The waves would kill the cancer cells in seconds — or at least that’s the hope.
“In this whole process, that’s considered the holy grail,” Kanzius says. “To go after the specific metastasized cells.”
Geller explains it this way: “Lung, breast, colon and prostate — none of those patients die of their primary (cancer), they die from metastasis.”
But before anyone gets too excited, Kanzius offers this caveat: If the research leads to treatment in humans, it won’t necessarily mean cancer is cured. Kanzius says that many types of cancer, after being destroyed, can regenerate. Which may mean that some patients will have to get retreated at regular intervals.
Kanzius remembers the call he received from Curley when his experiments first showed that cancerous tumors could be destroyed in laboratory animals. That was around Christmas of 2006, he says.
“That was a big day for him and he called me right after he got the results,” Kanzius says. “I was very excited, you know. I told my wife, ‘This is unbelievable. It works.’”
Both Kanzius’ machine and the researchers’ targeting mixtures will enter the FDA approval process at the same time — probably within months. And it probably won’t be difficult to find willing candidates for clinical trials, Kanzius included. But will they occur before cancer takes his life?
Medical communities are starting to warm to the possibilities. Lee Memorial Health System, for example, has signed up to host clinical trials. Dr. Sharon MacDonald, chief officer of the Lee Memorial Health System Foundation and vice president of oncology, calls the targeting treatment “very promising.”
She says that unlike the current limited stock of cancer treatments, Kanzius’ machine wouldn’t require having toxic chemicals, radiation or medical instruments enter the body. She says the new treatment will use non-toxic gold nanoparticles and proven, lab-created antibodies to target the cancer cells.
MacDonald says taking part in early clinical trials will be a good fit for Lee Memorial’s new cancer center being constructed near the intersection of Interstate 75 and Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers.
“It piqued our interest to be able to be local and be only one of a handful of sites in the nation to be able to participate in a human trial when it comes about,” MacDonald says.
Kanzius, who headed back north to Erie in early May, says he hopes to build a larger version of his machine by August. He says it will allow a person to receive treatment throughout his or her body.
He says his machine is also showing promise in the treatment of like HIV, and could play a role in overcoming future water shortages. For example, if it can remove salt from sea water, the world might have an almost limitless supply of drinking water. Kanzius initially experimented with test tubes full of seawater collected from the canal behind his Florida home, and now research on the theory is progressing at Penn State University.
The possibilities about what the machine might accomplish run rampant. Can it defeat viruses and infections? Heart disease? No research has begun on those hopeful thoughts, but Kanzius has submitted patents for the treatment of other diseases. “One of those viruses could be HIV,” Kanzius says. “The viruses are actually easier to work with than cancer cells,”
Kanzius also says it may be possible to target plaques in arteries.
“It’s exciting knowing that there are other uses out there,” Kanzius says.
But making money isn’t the motivation. Kanzius says he filed numerous patents to protect the machine and the research surrounding it. There will be plenty of money to be made in creating the nanoparticle-antibody cocktails, he says.
But just getting to the finish line is going to be difficult. “The major setback is that the research is very expensive and most of the research that I’ve been doing is because of philanthropic funding,” says researcher Geller.
No big company has stepped in to fund research into Kanzius’ machine, so the money has to come from somewhere else. He’s established the John Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation. Its Web site — www.kanziuscancerresearch.com — has drawn a rash of donations as media reports on the device have spread.
Kanzius is not letting all of this attention go to his head. Being interviewed on “60 Minutes” by Lesley Stahl. Going on the “The Early Show.” Reporters asking for interviews, from around the world.
Most of the media requests go unanswered. His time, he says, is limited.
“I’d be better off building better equipment, concentrating on ways to improve it, than figuring out what flight I’m going to take to be on Oprah Winfrey,” he says.
Even his Sanibel neighbors are interested, and supportive.
During a late April interview for this story, Sanibel resident Candy Scothorn can’t help but interrupt. “Congratulations,” she tells Kanzius. “We’re just very thrilled that you’re here and we’re proud. We greatly appreciate it.”
Scothorn reaches out her hand to be shaken.
“I do it this way,” he tells her, bumping knuckles instead of grasping her hand. It’s one way Kanzius lowers his exposure to germs that might attack his weakened immune system.
“It’s fabulous that he’s a human being. A soul,” adds the 51-year-old Scothorn.
Wife Marianne says it’s her husband’s cancer that keeps him from getting too excited.
“It has humbled both of us, and it’s kept us very grounded. His passion has been working on this project. That has taken most of his energy. How he does it, I don’t know, because I get tired.”
And yet Kanzius keeps going. Waiting for results. Battling cancer. Hanging on.
“‘Til I see it work, you know, (until) I see the first human treated and it works,” he says, “then it will be a day to celebrate and break open the champagne. There’s no need to build yourself up ‘til it gets to where you really want it to.
“There is probably going to be a stem cell transplant eventually,” he says about his own prospects against an unrelenting disease. ”But I’d rather do this than any other. At least I know this will work.”
I note that Kanzius envisions using his radio wave machine to zap viruses, bacteria, and arterial plaque with an appropriately accompanying metal nanoparticle such as gold attached to them. It seems to me that regarding viruses, should NanoViricides include a metal nanoparticle in their virus seeking and attaching micelle-ligand Cide they would have a double barreled attack - 1) From the Cide itself, and 2) From the radiowave heating-destruction involving the metal nanoparticle.