(CBS) John Kanzius hopes he can add a few more years to the six he has already cheated death out of since he was diagnosed with terminal leukemia. He wants to see the promising machine he invented that kills cancer cells go into clinical trials and maybe help other people beat a disease he probably won’t.
Kanzius tells his story to 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl this Sunday, April 12, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Interest from cancer institutions in his radio-wave machine that has killed cancer cells in the tumors of rabbits and rats is picking up, enough so to motivate Kanzius to reconsider getting more life-extending, but difficult, treatments for his own cancer. "Well, I changed my mind because I think with all the research that’s going on with the institutions, that maybe I’d like to be around for the first patient to get treated and just have a smile," Kanzius tells Stahl.
It might mean undergoing the arduous process of a bone marrow transplant, yet another difficult treatment like the debilitating chemotherapy he has endured for six years. It was the difficulty of the treatment, not on him, but on children, that moved Kanzius to try to invent a cancer treatment without side effects like those of chemo and radiation therapy. "I saw the smiles of youth and saw their spirits were broken….You could see that they were sort of asking 'Why can’t they do something for me?'" recalls Kanzius, of the children he encountered while in treatment.
So one night, the retired radio technician and station owner had an idea to harness radio waves as he rolled and tossed in bed, unable to sleep from chemotherapy’s side effects. "Started looking in the cupboard and I saw pie pans and I said, 'These are perfect. I can modify these.'" But building his first radio-wave machine in his garage was just the beginning.
He would need to focus the machine's waves on cancer in the human body and build a stronger machine to use for the next step: getting the waves, which do not harm humans, to destroy cancer cells. He knew strong radio waves heat metal. Would metal injected into a cancerous tumor heat up and then cook the cells to death when bombarded with radio waves?
He went back to his own kitchen again for the next step, taking a hot dog and injecting the top of it with copper sulfate, a metal. He put it in his machine and measured the temperature. "And when I saw it start to go up I said, 'Eureka, I’ve done it!'" says Kanzius. But the whole idea was to heat up small areas of the body and not harm surrounding tissue. He had to measure the other end of the hotdog to make sure it was cold. "And the temperature dropped back down and I said, 'God, maybe I got something here.'"
Currently researchers are perfecting the treatment with tiny metallic nanoparticles, so small that thousands of them could fit inside a single cell. The nanoparticles are also being altered so they migrate through the bloodstream to find and penetrate cancer cells that may be throughout the body and not just concentrated in local tumors - the real litmus test of Kanzius’ treatment.
That this will eventually cure cancer is still a big if, as there have been many treatments that worked on animals but failed on human patients. Still, says liver cancer surgeon and researcher Dr. Steven Curley, "I’ve got to tell you, in 20 years of research this is the most exciting thing that I’ve encountered." It will be at least four years before any human clinical trials will begin for the treatment.
It will be even longer, if ever, that leukemia like Kanzius' will be effectively treated with his machine, but he is just waiting for one patient suffering from any kind of cancer to be helped. "And then I don’t care anymore," he tells Stahl.