Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Miracle Cure or Hype?

There was a story about the “Kanzius Machine” on the 60 Minutes news show this past Sunday night. It was also front page on Yahoo yesterday. (See reference 1 for the full written story and 13 minute video replay). Its claim was that a radio executive / inventory with cancer had invented a potential new form of cancer treatment that would have no adverse side effects. Both MD Anderson and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) are aggressively testing this new machine. Both cancer centers have begun animal trials and it has destroyed large solid mass tumors in mice without harmful side effects. Human trials were estimated to be at least 4 years away.

The machine uses radio waves which are harmless to the human body. It uses nanotubes filled with metal injected into the tumor site. I wrote about nanotubes in my blog entry on November 4 2007. Please see that entry for a primer on nanotubes. They are fascinating. The radio waves heat up the metal in the nanotubes and kill the cancer cells without harming the surrounding tissue.

This has great potential. The part of the story that was down played was the difficulty of finding a nanotube with a substance on it (an antibody) that could seek out just the rouge cancer cells. It is these undetectable rouge cells that sometimes metastasize in another organ and then sometimes eventually kill the patient. Also, many tumors are poorly differentiated… meaning they are not rigorously defined with clean edges like a marble. They have tentacles like an octopus that can stretch to areas away from the primary tumor site. That’s why surgeon try to cut enough away to get clean margins during cancer surgery. Finding the rouge cells was mentioned as a challenge to be overcome in the 60 Minutes story, but the seriousness of the challenge went understated in my opinion. Researchers have been looking for ways to direct chemo drugs to just the rouge cells for years, maybe decades. Once the chemo drug finds the cell, it must then find the right pathway to get inside the cell to destroy it. Nanotubes may have an advantage here. If they can adhere to the outside of the rouge cells (without the need to find a pathway to get inside the cell), the nanotubes can be heated and the cells may be able to be destroyed from the outside. This would be a truly remarkable advancement.

I was encouraged by this new device. It will not be an immediate panacea in the war on cancer, but it has the potential to be an important and powerful tool in the cancer war arsenal over the next decade. One downside that crossed my mind was for people like myself that have metal implanted in them. Would a treatment like this be able to differentiate between metal implants and the metal in a nanotube? Miracle cure or hype? Stay tuned, I guess we’ll find out.

Take care.


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