NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (ABC4 UTAH) - "Give me the power to create a fever, and I shall cure any disease." Those famous words spoken 2,000 years ago by Hippocrates, the founder of Western medicine. It's now what medical professionals call hyperthermia therapy; literally heating up the cancer cells to target tumors.
Just last month, Good4Utah's Nadia Crow and Photojournalist John Eulberg traveled to New Orleans for a conference on hyperthermia. They joined Pyrexar, a Utah company, who builds machines to administer hyperthermia treatments. Throughout the week, in a five part special project series, we'll learn about hyperthermia. Its success and its challenges. The first report begins with its history.
Historians declare the first written reference to hyperthermia found in Egyptian scrolls five thousand years ago. According to www.cancer.gov, hyperthermia is also known as thermal therapy. "Research has shown that high temperatures can damage and kill cancer cells, usually with minimal injury to normal tissues."
"Basically this is just using simple high fever temperatures in localized areas to treat these tumors. So it's a very natural process to the body," said Pyrexar Medical Chief Technology Officer Paul Turner.
"Salt Lake city and the University of Utah have been very much involved in hyperthermia research in the early years," said Turner.
Turner showed images of hyperthermia machines built as far back as 1987, but Physicist Gerard Van Rhoon says he built his first hyperthermia machine in the late 1970s.
"The first one was a system for superficial hyperthermia to have extended fields very close together so we can have a higher quality of treatment," said Physicist Gerard Van Rhoon, PhD from Erasmus MC Cancer Institute.
Van Rhoon then built a second machine for deep hyperthermia in the pelvis region before finally buying a hyperthermia machine in the early 1980s. All of that work was done before a personal computer or true understanding of anatomy.
"From the physical scale of the human body down to the nano scale you go into the tumor. That is something that when i started, you could imagine that there was something, but it wasn't able to be measured," said Van Rhoon.
So according to Radiation Oncologist and Director of the Division of Translational Radiation Sciences at University of Maryland Medical Center Dr. Zeljko Vujaskovic, a lack of knowledge and primitive equipment caused those early clinical trials to be ineffective.
"Perception at the time was that hyperthermia was not effective and after that there was a decline, especially in the United States, of the use of hyperthermia," said Radiation Oncologist and Director of the Division of Translational Radiation Sciences at University of Maryland Medical Center Dr. Zeljko Vujaskovic.
Many in the field didn't give up. So much so that Dr. Vujaskovic claims more recent clinical trials, with better equipment show hyperthermia treatment isn't a lost cause
"The subsequent clinical trials and the work that was done primarily in Europe, those clinical trials have shown advantage in different settings and have moved hyperthermia forward. There is a renewal in hyperthermia cancer treatment," said. Vujaskovic.
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