Studies on using radio waves against cancer are advancing

Washington County native developed the technique

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Human pancreatic cancer has been cured -- at least in a dish.

Using a treatment developed by Washington County native John Kanzius, researchers have killed pancreatic cancer cells in a media solution without affecting healthy cells.

Research conducted at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston shows that spiking live cancer cells with gold nanoparticles, then destroying them with radio waves similar to those traveling the airways to ordinary radios, could be a promising new cancer treatment.

An abstract describing the research on the Kanzius Radiowave Treatment is scheduled to be published today on the Web site of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, whose conference runs today through Sunday in Orlando, Fla. The Mayo Clinic also contributed to the abstract. The Web site is

Dr. David Geller, co-director of the Liver Cancer Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, also has used Mr. Kanzius' equipment to prove it can kill tissue, and theoretically cancer, in live animals. His abstract will be presented Feb. 7 during the American Surgical Congress in Phoenix.

"This and the abstract from UPMC are defining moments for this project," said Mr. Kanzius, 62, now of Erie and Sanibel, Fla. "The reason I got involved and spent a lot of my own money is because I remember all the young people who lost their smiles during cancer treatment. I feel I'm halfway to returning some of those smiles to their faces.

"This research cannot move fast enough for me," he said, noting he continues improving the radio-frequency equipment. "I've been able to create a better widget for them."

Dr. Steven Curley, professor of surgical oncology and chief of gastrointestinal tumor surgery at M.D. Anderson, said pancreatic cancer cells spiked with gold nanoparticles were mixed into a solution that also contained healthy human cells.

When the solution was exposed to radio waves from Mr. Kanzius' generator, healthy human tissue was unaffected, but up to 100 percent of pancreatic cancer cells were destroyed. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive forms of the human disease.

Gold nanoparticles become deadly to cancer only when exposed to the radio waves, the abstract states. Treating human cancers with targeted nanoparticles may lead to a noninvasive therapy, it states.

Authors include Dr. Curley, C.J. Gannon of M.D. Anderson and P. Mukherjee of the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Curley said he hopes manuscripts on the research will be published this spring.

Next, he said, he will begin testing the Kanzius treatment on animals, and if all goes well, on humans. But that step may take several years.

He also said he's working to develop ways to target cancer cells so that radio waves can kill them thermally without affecting healthy tissue.

"Can we target specific cancer cells? I don't know," he said. "That still is the huge question."

That research, Dr. Curley said, will determine whether the Kanzius procedure can emerge as a cure. Each type of cancer would require a unique targeting mechanism.

"We are making progress, slow but sure," he said. "We are hoping to have [human] clinical trials in two or three years. This is only treating cancer cells in dishes."

M.D. Anderson is ranked as the No. 1 center for cancer medicine in the world and recently published the "M.D. Anderson Manual for Medical Oncology."

Mr. Kanzius, a Trinity High School graduate, owned Jet Broadcasting Co. in Erie that operated a string of radio and television stations. After being diagnosed with B-cell leukemia, he sold the last of his stations in 2003 and retired to fight the disease.

Witnessing the impact of radiation and chemotherapy on fellow patients prompted him to consider how to use what he knows best -- radio waves -- to treat and possibly cure cancers. He has training in electronics but holds neither a college nor medical degree.

He built part of his first radio-wave prototype with his wife Marianne's pie pans.

Mr. Kanzius now is seeking 17 patents, most related to targeting and killing cancer. The basic idea, he said, is to turn each cancer cell into a radio receiver with nanoparticles serving as antennae, then bombarding them with radio waves until they die from heat.

The idea first drew the interest of Dr. Geller, who is using gold nanoparticles produced at Pitt in his research.

Dr. Curley said research also is under way to determine whether the Kanzius strategy can be used to kill infectious diseases. Any bacterial, viral and fungal pathogen that can be targeted could be killed with radio waves, he said.

He continues raising money to purchase a new-age infrared microscope powerful enough to spot nanoparticles inside cancer cells. The microscope -- the second of its type in the United States -- has been ordered and will be used exclusively on the Kanzius research, Dr. Curley said.

He's also raising private funding to continue the research that costs about $1 million a year.

While no government money has been used to fund M.D. Anderson's research, a $200,000 federal grant has helped to fund Dr. Geller's research at UPMC.

Dr. Geller said he also continues seeking funding to keep the promising research rolling.

John Beale, Post-Gazette
John Kanzius in a 2005 photo.

David Templeton can be reached at or 412-263-1578.


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