A cancer victim has invented a machine that could well replace traditional chemotherapy for the treatment of the disease.
Entrepreneur John Kanzius who invented the experimental radio frequency generator is himself a cancer survivor.
The former radio station owner inspired research into the potential of targeted radio waves which has resulted in a machine that sends out radio waves into the body and kills cancer cells.
Kanzius was diagnosed with leukemia 5 years ago, and experienced first hand the cruelty of chemotherapy especially in regard to children and decided that there must be a better way to cure cancer.
A research team led by scientists at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and Rice University ran with the idea and found that cancer cells treated with carbon nanotubes can be destroyed by non-invasive radio waves that heat up the nanotubes while sparing untreated tissue.
Carbon nanotubes are hollow cylinders of pure carbon that measure about a billionth of a meter, or one nanometer, across.
Professor Steven Curley who led the research says the technique completely destroyed liver cancer tumors in rabbits and there were no side effects other than some healthy liver tissue within 2-5 millimeters of the tumors sustaining heat damage due to nanotube leakage from the tumor.
Professor Curley says the results so far are promising and exciting and the next step is to look at ways to more precisely target the nanotubes so they attach to, and are taken up by cancer cells while avoiding normal tissue.
In the experiment, a solution of single-walled carbon nanotubes was injected directly into the liver tumors in four rabbits who were then exposed to two minutes of radio frequency treatment, resulting in the thermal destruction of their tumors.
Control group tumors that were treated only by radio frequency exposure or only by nanotubes were undamaged.
In lab experiments, two lines of liver cancer cells and one pancreatic cancer cell line were destroyed after being incubated with nanotubes and exposed to the radio frequency field.
Curley says radio frequency energy fields are able to penetrate deep into tissue, so it should be possible to deliver heat anywhere in the body if targeted nanotubes or other nanoparticles can be delivered to cancerous cells.
Without such a target, radio waves will pass harmlessly through the body.
The researchers say an invasive technique known as radio frequency ablation is used to treat some malignant tumors, which involves the insertion of needle electrodes directly into the tumors.
With this procedure incomplete tumor destruction occurs in 5 to 40 percent of cases, normal tissue is damaged and complications arise in 10 percent of patients who suffer such damage.
The radio frequency ablation treatment is limited to liver, kidney, breast, lung and bone cancers.
The researchers say targeting the nanotubes only at cancer cells is the next major challenge and they are looking at ways of binding the nanotubes to antibodies, peptides or other agents that in turn target molecules expressed on cancer cells.
This will be a complex endeavour as such molecules are also expressed in normal tissue and Curley estimates that a clinical trial is at least three to four years away.
The research was supported by an American Association of Cancer Research Littlefield Grant, NASA and the Houston-based Alliance for NanoHealth, the National Science Foundation, the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology and the Fulbright Foundation and is published in the journal Cancer.