Kanzius Cancer Machine Gets Its First Human Trial BY ERIKA HAYASAKI / JULY 21, 2015 7:14 AM EDT John Kanzius, a leukemia patient and retired radio engineer, stands in his garage next to several versions of a machine he invented to kill cancer by creating an intense electromagnetic field to heat nanoparticles attached to tumors, in Sanibel Island, Fla. on Feb. 20, 2008. JOHN B. CARNETT/BONNIER CORPORATION/GETTY FILED UNDER: Tech & Science, Cancer 2015, Nanotechnology, Cancer Treatment, Health and Medicine Try Newsweek for only $1.25 per week Doctors perform a radiofrequency ablation of a liver tumor in a hospital in Lyon, France on August 13, 2012. Radiofrequency ablation involves inserting a needle into a tumor in order to heat and kill it; Kanzius sought out Dr. Steven Curley based on his expertise with the technique to help develop his own method—which is both less invasive and capable of targeting smaller tumors than radio frequency ablation. BSIP/UIG/GETTY Curley gave Kanzius a call, and after listening to him explain his invention, told him he needed to find a substance that could attach to cancer cells and would burn when blasted with radio waves, so as not to damage nearby cells. Nanoparticles, Kanzius replied. They are so tiny that 100,000 of them lined up are about the width of sewing thread. More than 2,000 nanoparticles could fit inside of a red blood cell. Kanzius didn’t know how he could get some nanoparticles, and no one actually knew if they would burn, but it was worth a try. by TaboolaRecommended Multiple Sclerosis Research Points a Finger at Bacteria One Family's Fight Against Grisly Web Photos Huge Manta Ray Catch Angers Conservationists The World’s Oldest, And Possibly Largest, Wombat Turns 29 “It was the start of a beautiful friendship,” Curley says. He put Kanzius in touch with a Nobel Prize–winning chemist, Richard Smalley, who specialized in nanoscience and was on his deathbed from cancer. Smalley gave Curley two vials of carbon nanotubes, a kind of nanoparticle that is hollow, with a cylinder structure. In June 2005, with Kanzius’ encouragement, Curley put them in the machine, which used a pair of antennas with copper coils at each end to send high-voltage radio waves through the nanoparticles. “They heated at a remarkable rate.” To Curley, this meant the machine had the potential to treat cancer without needles, debilitating chemo or invasive surgeries. Combined with nanoscience, it could possibly one day detect and kill the most microscopic of cancer cells, which current machines cannot even find. “It blew my mind,” he says. “I started putting together research proposals.” Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, the MD Anderson Cancer Center and Rice University tested the technology. Curley’s team injected nanoparticles into human cancer cells in petri dishes, as well as into tumors in mice, rats, rabbits and pigs. Using the Kanzius machine, they were able to heat the nanoparticles and, as a result, kill all those cancerous cells. Results were published in the oncology medical journal Cancer, as well as Nano Research. They were publicized around the world and featured on 60 Minutes. Over and over again, after being injected with nanoparticles and heated with radio waves, cancer cells died while surrounding healthy areas remained intact. “We’ve treated pigs with far higher doses than I would ever use in a human being,” Curley says. “We found that animals we treated were fine; their blood tests were fine. It really did nothing in terms of damage to other cells.” Enough to Fight for EPA Spills Mining Waste Into Colorado River SHARES: 15.4K Candidates Come Out Strong in First GOP Debate SHARES: 2.4K How to Stream the GOP Debate SHARES: 2K How Uninformed U.S. Politicians Help ISIS SHARES: 663 Stocks: Tech Companies Google and Facebook Up; Disney Down SHARES: 26 MOST READ How to Stream the GOP Debate Candidates Come Out Strong in First GOP Debate EPA Spills Mining Waste Into Colorado River Poll: Trump Dominates GOP Presidential Field After Debate 800-Pound Tiger Shark Caught in South Carolina Surfing Spot Though he had become thinner with his illness, Kanzius still enjoyed expensive fine dining out on the town. Curley accompanied him on some of those drives about town, as residents waved and shouted, “Mr. Kanzius!” He says the locals treated Kanzius like a rock star. An unabashed optimist, Kanzius sometimes made overreaching claims about his device, telling audiences and fans: “I think I’ve found a cure for cancer.” This always made Curley cringe. He had to explain to Kanzius that it was dangerous to get people’s hopes up too high. “I don't tell patients they are cured until eight, nine, 10 years down road—and after proving they don't have microscopic cancer cells hiding somewhere.” If the machine led to a more effective, less toxic treatment for cancer, he told Kanzius, then that was a huge accomplishment. That was enough to fight for. As publicity grew, Curley began receiving hundreds of calls and emails a week from cancer patients and their families. Curley had to tell people, many of whom were on their deathbeds, that the treatment was not yet ready. Still, they persisted. “I will sign a waiver. I will do whatever it takes,” they pleaded. Patients promised that if they could come to Curley’s lab as secret test subjects, they wouldn't tell anybody. Curley would again say no with apologies. “I get it,” Curley says now. “Cancer scares the hell out of people.” Other people tried to figure out how to build their own Kanzius machine. “One guy sent a video of himself standing between two antennas,” Curley says. Kanzius finally stopped telling people he had a cure when cancer patients began showing up at his house asking for impromptu treatments. He couldn’t actually help; he didn’t have any spare nanoparticles. And even if he could get ahold of the nanoparticles, he didn’t have a way to get them into the cancer cells. Kanzius knew this, because he tried to treat himself in the summer of 2008. He called Curley and told him he was using the device to channel radio waves into his own body. “I just wanted to see what happened,” Kanzius told him. But, of course, radio waves alone didn't seem to make a difference. Into the Lab Since Kanzius first built his machine, there have been tremendous scientific advances in both nanotechnology and cancer research. Researchers have shown that nanoparticles can be used to create supersensitive biosensors able to detect cancer cells and even identify molecules that indicate someone is at increased risk for cancer. Google’s life sciences division, for example, has been working on combining nanoparticles with a wearable device to create the ultimate cancer detector. The theory is that nanoparticles could be ingested in a pill, for example, and then enter the bloodstream, where they would bind to a cancer cell. Since the core of the nanoparticles can be magnetic, the wearable device would detect and lure these cells toward it, where they would be counted using light and possibly even radio waves. Amrita Centre for Nanoscience and Molecular Medicine was so inspired by the work of Kanzius and Curley that he decided to test a similar technique using nanoparticles called graphene—honeycomb sheets of carbon atoms that make up the thinnest solid ever discovered. Graphene is flexible, transparent, highly electrically conductive and stronger than steel. Sasidharan’s team has used radio waves to destroy advanced-stage cancer cellsthat are highly resistant to other treatments, and found that graphene could heat at higher levels than other nanoparticles—which makes for a more efficient tumor-killing machine. In addition, in comparison to carbon nanotubes or gold nanoparticles—another material currently being investigated for cancer-curing potential—which may be toxic and hard for the body to break down, graphene, Sasidharan says, “is biodegradable; it can be safely used for human applications.” Curley has 20 researchers with expertise in nanomaterials, radiofrequency, immune function and drug delivery functions working in his lab at the Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. But he’s also been doing clinical research in Italy since 1982—the regulatory processes for human trials there, he says, are not as arduous as they are in the U.S. He did initial clinical trials for his early radiofrequency ablation research in Italy in 1997, which were followed by successful clinical trials in the U.S. a year later. The first round of clinical trials for the new Kanzius machine design will involve exposing 15 to 20 pancreatic and liver cancer patients to radio waves in the Kanzius machine, primarily to prove the process will not harm them, and to study the impact on their cancer cells. Tests will also examine how effectively radio wave treatments work when used along with known chemo drugs. The treatment, of course, would need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration before it could treat patients in the U.S. Curley is hopeful, but more cautious than Kanzius was, pointing out: “A whole bunch of us have been able to cure cancer in animals. You go to humans, and sometimes there are opposite results,” he says. “You never know.” But like he told Kanzius before he died, Curley deeply believes in the potential. He made a promise to his friend, and he intends to keep it. This article is one in a series from Newsweek 's 2015 Cancer issue, exploring challenges and innovations in cancer treatment and research. The complete issue is available online and at newsstands. Correction: The article previously incorrectly stated that Dr. Steven Curley is affiliated with Baylor University. He is in fact affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine.