By the time Peter Travers’ wife took her last breath in May 2016, she had fought cancer 12 times over the span of 18 years.
She had fought a good fight, and during the last three years of her life, she even used the experimental cancer therapy device that her husband had built for her.
“She became a very intelligent guinea pig and helped us improve the device,” said Travers, 65, of Longwood.
It all started in 2012, when Laurie Travers’ cancer came back, this time around her lungs.
“It was the beginning of the end,” said Travers. “I found her in the garage one day getting ready for a garage sale, and I said, ‘Why are you doing this now?’ And she said, ‘You don't know what to do with all this stuff after I'm gone.”
Desperate to save his wife, Travers began sifting through new studies and clinical trials until he stumbled upon a device that used electrical fields to kill cancer cells.
Called Tumor Treating Fields, the therapy was pioneered less than two decades ago by Israeli scientist Yoram Palti, who showed that when alternating electric fields are delivered at specific frequencies, they can disrupt the division of cancer cells and cause their death.
To produce the electric fields, an array of small disks are placed on the opposite sides of the body or head, such that the field is targeted at the tumor. For the device to be effective, patients have to wear the rows of adhesive disks for several hours every day.
The therapy is not a cure, but can help patients live longer or remain in remission.
Palti’s company, Novocure, has conducted several clinical trials on the therapy and it’s currently is the only company to have an FDA approval for a Tumor Treating Fields device to treat glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Novocure declined a request for interview.
“Certainly we have proof of principle that Tumor Treating Fields can be effective in certain settings and we're relatively early in the field in terms of clinical application and there may be many more applications to come,” said Dr. Naren Ramakrishna, director of proton therapy at Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center, and a principle investigator for one of Novocure’s clinical trials.
But Laurie Travers’ cancer was in her lungs and she didn’t fit any of the studies that Novocure had in the pipeline.
So Peter Travers, whose background is in communications and consulting, decided to use the Tumor Treating Fields principles to build a device just for her.
“The FDA doesn't regulate what you do to yourself,” said Travers.
He assembled a team of six people, starting with an engineering friend from church. Within three months, the team, which went on to name the company LifeBridge 10000, had its first prototype.
“The beautiful thing about this whole effort is that this was something we didn't have to prove,” said Travers. “This was something we had to mimic. We matched what FDA had approved, and we knew where we were supposed to be.”
Laurie Travers didn’t stop her chemo, but wearing the array of disks that covered the front and back of her torso, helped, Travers said. And for a little while, Laurie was even cancer-free.
Then the cancer came back, on her liver and, again, around her lungs.
“We tried, but she didn’t make it,” said Travers, getting choked up as he spoke.
More determined, Travers and his team kept working on their device, LB10000. Over the years, the team developed the technology such that it could target multiple cancers at once instead of one cancer at a time. The device received a full U.S. patent in December. It is patent-pending in 36 other countries.
In August 2016, the company based in Winter Springs, joined the UCF Business Incubation Program, where it continues its work.
It is also finishing up the next level of prototype, which has 80 disks instead of 16.
“It's a huge step for us,” said Travers. “If it works as expected, the next level is pre-production.”
But in order to show that his device really works, Travers needs to run clinical trials, for which the company has raised $400,000 from friends and family. It also started a crowdfunding effort on StartEngine.
“I want to be clear that, and it says on top of our website, that this is future hope,” said Travers. “I don't want people to think it's available today.”
Meanwhile, the pioneer of the field, Novocure, has seen relatively slow adoption of its approved device.
“It’s a cool technology, but I like technology,” said Dr. Dan Trifiletti, a radiation oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.
Other physicians may hesitate, because, “it’s new. It’s weird. We don’t understand it. Also there are logistical issues with wearing the device,” said Trifiletti.
Patients need to wear the device at least 70 percent of the time to benefit from it. And physicians have to be licensed by Novocure to prescribe the device.
Trifiletti, who is involved in research with Novocure and conducts his own research in the field, said he offers to patients who are candidates for ti.
“The thing about it for me is that if I was the patient, I would want it offered to me,” he said. “I’m not an advocate, but I think patients should know about it.”
If the LB10000 device survives the clinical trials and proves to be safe and effective, Travers envisions it for late-stage cancer patients with metastatic disease in two or more locations on the body at once.
The cancer-killing power of the electric field could potentially help terminally ill patients live longer.
“But it’s a long way from a concept and applying that concept to demonstrating that this device actually has value,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for American Cancer Society. “It's a long path and it's not an easy path. And there are always issues. But I never say never.”