Disrupting death
NanoLife Sciences generates buzz over its use of antiproton therapy to fight cancer.
By Erick Schonfeld and Jeanette Borzo, Business 2.0

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0 Magazine) -- The Disruptor: NanoLife Sciences

The Innovation: More precise cancer treatment that's less destructive to healthy tissue

The Disrupted: Conventional cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy

For many cancer patients, the treatment feels worse than the disease. Radiation and chemotherapy can have debilitating side effects and often destroy healthy tissue as well as tumors.

Thus the strong allure of a potentially revolutionary cancer treatment under development by NanoLife, a startup based in Newport Beach, Calif. NanoLife's approach builds on the cutting-edge technology of using protons rather than X-rays to attack cancerous masses, but takes it many steps further. If NanoLife's science pans out, it could transform what is now a five-week course of radiation therapy into a few afternoons' work.

Unlike X-rays, protons have weight and mass. This means that a proton beam generated by a proton accelerator can stop inside a tumor and deliver its lethal force without destroying healthy tissue by exiting the body, as X-ray beams do. Protons have been gaining importance in cancer treatment for years, and NanoLife currently plans to open proton treatment centers around the world. The first may open by 2010.

But the truly disruptive potential of NanoLife lies in its plans to go beyond proton therapy, and instead use antiprotons to treat cancer. The idea is to create a device that can deliver a stream of antiprotons into a tumor. The laws of physics decree that the antiprotons will attract the protons within the tumor; when they collide, they annihilate one another, destroying the tumor in the bargain. Wild as it may sound, lab and animal tissue testing have shown promise.

Antiproton therapy is at least seven years off and would be expensive -- a single particle accelerator required to produce antiprotons could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But the approach already has some cancer fighters buzzing. "The theory and physics behind it justify wanting to do it," says David Bush, vice chairman of the radiation medicine department at California's Loma Linda Medical Center, a top proton therapy center. "The concept is valid."

NanoLife president Ray Winn, a veteran of the nuclear and semiconductor industries, envisions someday converting his company's proton treatment centers into antiproton centers and treating thousands of patients throughout the world. It's a big dream, but if anything like it ever comes to pass, think of the implications: antiprotons disrupting death itself. Now that's one bit of disruption even William Orton and J.P. Morgan could've instantly grasped.


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