Several years ago while receiving a round of chemotherapy treatment for a rare form of cancer, John Kanzius, who knew the side effects of cancer treatment all too well, was moved when he visited the ward of the hospital with children who had the disease and thought "there has to be a better way." This thought has led to a groundbreaking area of cancer treatment research from a man with no background in medicine or science, and, if you can believe it, started with a test using pie tins and hotdogs.
The Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation is currently helping conduct medical research in an effort to find a better way to treat cancer without the harmful side effects associated with current treatment. It is so groundbreaking, that it even caught the eye of Glenn Beck, who co-sponsored an event for the foundation Thursday evening at his offices in New York City.
Although Kanzius didn't survive his own battle to see his idea treat patients with cancer, his novel technique using radiowaves to "cook cancer" is still being researched, and experts say in a best case scenario it could reach human trials within three years.
Beck hosted Kanzius' wife, Marianne, on GBTV last night to explain the idea:
How an idea starting with pie tins and hotdogs could lead to symptom-free cancer treatment
While finding a cure for cancer is frequently what you hear of these days and billions of federal dollars goes into researching it, treatment of the disease is still something patients have to deal with until a cure is found.
Dr. Steven Curley, a professor and lead cancer treatment researcher at University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas -- an institution conducting research on Kanzius' idea -- said that while the research to find a cure and learn more about what causes cancer and its behavior is important, improving treatment for cancer patients is just as vital.
"The sad reality is [...] a number of people still die of cancer each year," Curley said. "We are trying to come up with things that have the ability to treat cancer now."
Curley said he first met a Kanzius at the request of a colleague. Kanzius, who was being treated for a rare form of B-cell leukemia at M.D. Anderson and knew the harsh side-effects of chemotherapy all too well, had an idea he couldn't leave unresearched, unfulfilled.
"[My colleague said] there's this patient driving me crazy about an idea he had," Curley said. "Will you please talk to him."
Curley met with Kanzius about his idea which involved using radiowaves to heat and kill cancer cells. The idea came to Kanzius one night while unable to sleep. In a eureka moment, Kanzius, who had a background in electronics and broadcast engineering, took out some radio transmitter parts, his wife's pie tins and connected metal probes to a few hotdogs. Exposing the hotdogs to a radiowave field, Kanzius found the parts of the hotdog touching metal got hot while those not touching metal stayed cold.
As Kanzius explained the idea of using radiowaves to treat cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells unharmed in an effort to create a side-effect-free cancer treatment, Curley said he had heard similar theories before. But, he said, no one had figured out how to focus the radiofrequency field. Curley told Kanzius to build a machine and then get back to him.
"I thought that would be the last time I'd hear from him," Curley said. "But John didn't take a challenge like that lightly."
When Curley recalls Kanzius showing him the machine he created, Curley said he thought, "Holy moly, this guy is amazing." Curley who has been doing cancer research since 1985 calls it a remarkable phenomenon.
"This man was a private individual with no scientific training, coming up with an idea that works," Curley said, adding that he hadn't experienced a situation like this in all his years as a scientist.
Unorthodox funding and pending human trials
With all this taking place in the mid-2000s, much has occurred with the research since. Kanzius helped establish the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation in 2008, which is a non-profit funding the studies at M.D. Anderson led by Curley and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center led by Dr. David Geller. Money for the research comes through donations, as well as state and federal funding.
KCRF's executive director Mark Neidig said that last year the foundation was awarded more than $2.4 million in federal funds and raised $2 million in donations for research. Learn more about donating and "spreading the wave".
"Even as the media says our economy has plummeted, our donations continue to come through," Neidig said, explaining how he gets calls daily of cancer patients and loved ones looking for a better cancer treatment.
"People are looking for an alternative," Neidig said. "We're so accustomed to just accepting the fact that we will kill the cancer and the healthy parts of the person while we treat them. It's not ok. Introducing toxins into a person's body isn't acceptable. We're looking to kill the cancer cells and keep the healthy parts of the body."
How do they do this? Neidig explained that in lab experiments and animal trials the researchers have been able to attach an antibody that fits with a protein specific to cancer cells to metallic nanoparticles. The antibody will only attach to cancer cells, "like a lock and key". At that point, the cancer cells -- not healthy cells -- have a metal attached to it that when exposed to radiowaves heats up and "cooks the cell."
Watch more about how the treatment works:
Curley says the greatest success of the research so far has been using this technique to treat an animal with pancreatic cancer -- a type of cancer he says that is "highly lethal." Curley said they were able to eradicate the cancer with no harmful side effects on the animal.
But both Curley and Neidig say there are still unknowns to figure out before this goes to human trial, which Curley said in a best case scenario could be within three years.
Researchers are now looking several facets of the technology: the intensity of the radio frequency needed; duration; how many nanoparticles are needed effectively "cook" the cell; and if there are things other than antibodies, which are rather large relatively speaking, specific to cancer cells to carry the nanoparticles, while not affecting healthy cells.
In terms of design for the machine that would emit the radiowaves itself, Neidig said that ideas are still in development. He said that concepts put forth have been a standup machine, a room and a table. According to Neidig, KCRF does't fund research on the machine, but private industry is developing the intellectual property and prototypes for it.
Curley said that the medical community has received the idea of this treatment with a lot of interest as well as an appropriate amount of skepticism.
"We hear about new treatments all the time that look promising but don't have human data yet," he said. "I'm the same way when I see new treatments."
"We don't know if it's going to work on humans," Neidig said. "But, we are determined to know for sure and will fight to the end."
The Kanzius technology was featured on 60 minutes in 2008. Watch the episode with Kanzius and the researchers in these two parts.