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.