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Erie's Cancer Killers Fight On for Kanzius

A diagnosis of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and a steady round of chemotherapy should have stopped John Kanzius in his tracks. Instead, it inspired the Erie businessman and radio technician to develop a technology that may very well be a cure for the disease that afflicts millions of people the world over. His cancer-killing machine, which uses radio waves to destroy cancer cells, is both revolutionary--and extremely promising.

"Nixon declared war on cancer forty years ago," says Mark A. Neidig, Executive Director of the Erie-based Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation, the non-profit organization that fundraises and promotes the research being done at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. "Unfortunately, we are still treating cancer the same way." Calling current cancer treatments that kill cancerous cells along with healthy cells "barbaric," Neidig says that Kanzius' treatment offers another way because it kills only cancerous cells and doesn't induce side effects.

Not bad for a guy who never went to college and had no background in science or medicine. A longtime ham radio operator, Kanzius mined his knowledge of radio waves to create the prototype of his cancer-killing machine in his home. In 2005, it was successfully tested at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center before renowned medical researcher Dr. Steven A. Curley, M.D. at the University of Texas took over testing.

A couple events helped Kanzius' invention gain traction. First, there has been a substantial amount of media coverage, the most notable being a 12-minute interview on 60 Minutes in 2008. Then, that same year, Kanzius met with local business and political leaders to form the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation to ensure the long-term viability of his work.

Also boosting the effort was the progress in Dr. Curley's research. "John's machine killed human pancreatic carcinoma cells in Petri dishes," Neidig says in reference to peer-validated research that was recently published Surgery medical journal. "This was monumental."

Then there is the money coming in to support all this good work: $2.1 million from the National Cancer Institute, $2 million in individual donations, $700,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services, $500,000 from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Though it is a small part of the funds, winning a $250,000 Pepsi Refresh Project grant was a major boon to the Foundation.

"We competed against 297 organizations," says Neidig. Though he and his staff wondered how they would win against more well-known organizations in bigger cities, an aggressive guerrilla marketing plan, strong support from the local community, and a unique selling point pushed the Foundation into first place. "So many people are affected by cancer, and we're developing a treatment with no side effects," says Neidig. "It's a refreshing idea, and people embraced it." The money--which the Foundation learned it won in December of last year--will help get its message out during a cross-country road show, conventions, and meetings with Congressional leaders.

Beyond this, the grant also created a new awareness about the Foundation and the research it funds. "When we started out, almost of our donations came from Erie," says Neidig. "Now, about half come from this area and half come from other areas of the country."

A final, though most unfortunate, impetus to keep pushing forward came when John Kanzius died in early 2009 from complications related to his cancer treatments. Yet amid the sadness over his loss, a strong resolve grew. "We all became more dedicated to this research that offers so much promise and hope," says Neidig, who helped the Foundation move into a larger space in the Erie Technology Incubator at Gannon University in August, consolidating three smaller office spaces and making room for increased volunteers and operations.

One person especially committed to Kanzius' work is his friend Charlie Rutkowski. The Plant Manager of Erie's Industrial Sales and Manufacturing knew Kanzius was a longtime advocate for Erie  and his company is currently working on building a human-sized cancer-killing machine, keeping the fight alive right at home.

"It takes a long time and many steps to make a machine ready for human trials," says Rutkowski. He adds that the company, which received $500,000 from the Department of Community and Economic Development in 2009, expects to send a machine down to Dr. Curley and his team sometime in the first quarter of 2011. Pending FDA approval, there will be between two and three years of testing just the machine before the researchers can begin human trials.

Kanzius' research is already benefiting Erie by shining a light on the town and by creating a handful of jobs--four at the Foundation and six at Industrial Sales and Manufacturing. In the future, that number could climb dramatically.

"I don't want to put the cart before the horse," says Rutkowski, "but having the machine meet FDA approval could add hundreds of jobs to the area." Some of those jobs could be at the Foundation, the Regional Cancer Center, and Industrial Sales and Manufacturing.

And that scenario would be just what Kanzius would have wanted. "John was passionate about Erie, and his deathbed wish was for human trials to happen here," says Neidig.

Amanda Prischak is an Erie-based freelance writer and part-time cheesemonger. She encourages everyone to visit the Gem City, so long as lake-effect snow's not doing its thing. Send feedback here.

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Jim Rutkowski Sr., CEO and president of Industrial Sales and Manufacturing, left, and Charlie Rutkowski, the company's plant manager, look at a computer rendering showing how a patient would be scanned using the radio frequency machine in a medical environment.

Key players in the development of the radio frequency machine that is being tested for a possible cancer treatment are (from left) Charlie Rutkowski; Frank Bogacki, RF engineer; Jim Rutkowski; and Mark Neidig, executive director of the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation.

The late John Kanzius, right, inventor of the radio wave transmitting device that is being developed as a possible cancer-curing device, talks with Dr. Steve Curley, chief researcher for the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Curley, right, talks about the radio-wave transmitter as Kanzius looks on.

All Photographs by Rob Engelhardt

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