If his invention proves successful, John Kanzius may one day be known as a man who found a treatment for cancer, found a way to provide fresh drinking water to the world and ended the fuel crisis. And, even though that day may not be too far in the future, Kanzius fears he might not live to see it. Kanzius has invented a machine that uses radio waves to zap tumors in rabbits and mice, can set salt water on fire and can use that fire to fuel an engine. He's done this with no medical degree, no Ph.D., not even a bachelor's degree. The only important degrees in Kanzius' life measure how hot he wants to heat metal with a radio wave. It all started six years ago when Kanzius was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Then 58, he resigned himself to his death sentence. "It was a real kick in the rear end,” he said. A visit to University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston changed his life. He was in an elevator headed to the seventh floor for a painful bone marrow test, but the elevator door opened instead on the ninth floor, the children's ward. Kanzius had no idea there were so many children suffering with cancer, a disease he had always considered an adult disease. But dozens of children were on the ninth floor that day, watching him with sad, hollow eyes that spoke volumes of the painful treatments they were enduring, just as he was. "I thought, you know, if I've got a death sentence at 58 or 59 years old, I've lived my life and met a lot of people," Kanzius said. "But these young kids never got a chance to live. That is horrible." The vision of those sick children never left Kanzius' mind, even as he returned home to Erie, Pa., and began a series of chemotherapy treatments. The treatments were painful, exhausting and weakened his immune system, so Kanzius decided to buy a home in Sanibel, Fla., where at least the warm weather was a little easier on his immune system. Sleepless night experiments The chemotherapy caused Kanzius many negative side effects like nausea and sleeplessness. It was late on a sleepless November night as Kanzius tossed and turned in bed that he had an idea. Far fetched as it may seem, he wondered if radio waves could kill a tumor. Before retirement, Kanzius' career had centered on radio and television technology and he had a solid background in radio frequency transmitters. He had tinkered with the idea of targeting tumors with radio waves in the past - he knew that radio waves could heat metal almost instantly without heating the surrounding areas. But it was that fateful night in 2003 that he decided to act on his idea. "I had been thinking what if I sent a signal to a cancer cell that might have some kind of receiver, a piece of metal or something in it, and had the cancer cell pick up some RF energy on the radio signal (so it could) cause enough heat or instability in the metal to kill the cancer cell and just the cancer cell," Kanzius said. He quietly got out of bed so as not to disturb his sleeping wife, Marianne. He crept downstairs to the kitchen where he rooted through the cabinets looking for something metallic to bounce radio waves off.His wife's pie tins would have to do since his Florida workshop was rudimentary. Most of his equipment was still in his Erie home. Armed with the pie tins, copper wires, boxes and antennas, Kanzius must have seemed like a mad scientist to his wife who had awaken joined him. For the next few weeks, Kanzius' life revolved around building his machine. "My wife would be out getting different types of iron and copper mixtures for me," he said. "I started getting hot dogs and experimenting with these in the middle of the night and found that at the point where I injected these copper salts or iron salts or whatever that spot would get hot and the rest of the hot dog would stay cold." His experiments with hot dogs eventually graduated to liver and other meats. The stench of the burning meats was almost more than Kanzius could take in his state of chemo-induced nausea, but the malodorous experiments proved what he had suspected - that he could inject a piece of metal into the meat and then heat only that area up to extreme temperatures quickly by sending radio waves through it. Kanzius finished building the first prototype of his machine and patented it. But how would he apply his findings to an animal or human? Research effort expands When a cancer specialist at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Steven Curley, MD, heard about the experiment, he was interested because he had developed a similar cancer treatment using radio waves. "Current RF therapy is invasive, it requires placing a needle directly into a tumor to be treated,” Curley said in an e-mail interview. "We are limited to treating tumors in only a few sites in the body, we can't treat large tumors effectively, and the heating destroys normal tissues near the needle causing a complication rate of about 10 percent.” If successful, the new technique will be non-invasive, and, in theory, will be able to treat tumors anywhere in the body including microscopic metastases. Curley suggested to Kanzius that he contact another M.D. Anderson leukemia patient, Richard Smalley, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist who specialized in nanoscience. Curley thought it might be possible to heat metallic nanoparticles with Kanzius' machine. Since nanoparticles are so tiny - 75,000 to 100,000 can fit on the tip of a human hair - the idea was that a patient could swallow a pill or receive an injection containing the particles which would attach themselves to cancerous cells and then be heated enough by the radio waves to kill the cells. "As first presented, there were a few problems with the approach,” Curley said. "I mentioned this to John and he responded by building exactly the kind of equipment I knew would be needed to make this work. He is very ingenious and responsive when it comes to modifying designs and equipment.” Smalley doubted that nanoparticles would work, but he gave two vials of carbon nanoparticles to Curley who brought them to Pittsburgh, where Dr. David Geller was experimenting with Kanzius' machine. Geller is co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's liver cancer program. When Smalley received a phone call from Curley saying that the nanoparticles had heated up when they were exposed to the radio waves, he was stunned. Smalley asked his colleagues at Rice University to join researchers from M.D. Anderson and the University of Pittsburgh who were experimenting with Kanzius' machine. Smalley's fight with leukemia ended just a few months later when he died in October 2005.
A scientific manuscript written by a team of scientists from University of Texas, Rice University, Bordeaux (France) University, including Curley and Smalley was published in Cancer, an oncology medical journal last October. The manuscript documents experiments using human cells and tumors in rabbits and states that within 48 hours of being injected with carbon nanoparticles and exposed to the RF field with Kanzius' machine, all the rabbits¹ cancerous tumors demonstrated complete necrosis and were destroyed without side effects or damage to neighboring cells.
Targeting cancer cells
The next step in bringing Kanzius' dream of eradicating cancer to fruition is to find molecules that "target" cancerous cells and deliver the nanoparticles to them. The process of identifying these delivery molecules is well underway and Kanzius said that researchers have found molecules that will deliver the nanoparticles to four different types of cancer, though that research is under peer review the results of which won't be officially announced until fall.
"This has an incredible amount of potential, that's all I can really say fairly and evenly at this time,” Curley said April 14 on CBS's "The Early Show." I've never seen anything quite like this. It has the potential to treat multiple types of cancer, that's what's unique."
Kanzius' leukemia has been through bouts of remission, but doctors say he will probably need a stem cell transplant.
This week, Kanzius said he will begin building a version of his machine that is large enough for human treatments. Though he may not live long enough to receive treatment with his machine, he said he hopes to live long enough to see it bring a smile to at least one cancer sufferer.
He estimates that his invention might go into human trials within four years, but only with enough funding. Politicians like Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., are becoming involved in fund raising at a congressional level and individuals can donate to the research at www.johnkanziuscancerresearchfoundation.org
"We don't yet have human-sized equipment and we can not treat anybody until we finish two to three years of work proving important principles. Then we can request permission from the FDA to proceed with clinical trials,” Curley emphasized. "We can not and will not do this improperly.”
John Kanzius sits with his wife, Marianne at their Sanibel Island, Fla. home. ,