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Sound reasoning

One is a musician and a scientist. The other is a scientist and a musician. Together, they’re engaged in ground- breaking efforts to conquer cancer by blasting it to smithereens with high- frequency sound waves. “I feel like a mad scientist at times,”

admits pioneering composer and con- ductor Tony Holland, a Skidmore faculty member since 1982. “But we may well be on the verge of a new paradigm in cancer treatment.” He says, “Sound is powerful. As I always teach my students, at certain frequencies and vibrations it can shatter glass or bring down a bridge.” His research partner is Jonathan Brody

’92, director of surgical research at Phila - delphia’s Thomas Jefferson University Medical College, and the winner of a $200,000 award from the American Asso- ciation of Cancer Research for his work on pancreatic cancer. Brody confirms that the potential for the technique to succeed “is amazing, and not far-fetched.” The duo started

their experiments on cancer cells in 2008, after a serendipitous meeting at a Skid- more Alumni Career Day, where Holland attended Brody’s talk about his research. The two had known each other 15 years earlier, when Brody, who came to Skid- more as a Filene Music Scholar, played percussion in the Skidmore orchestra under Holland’s baton. After Brody’s career talk, Holland asked him to view a video showing cells exploding under a Rife-Bare phanotron plasma device he had assembled to “devitalize” microor- ganisms. (Royal Rife was an American in- ventor who, in the 1930s, said he could weaken pathogens under a beamed cur- rent of “resonant destructive frequen- cies.”) Holland’s focus at the time was on shooting at harmless microorganisms, and he saw the success of the technique as “proof of concept” of Rife’s idea. After viewing Holland’s work, Brody

asked, “Could you blow up cancer cells like that?” Replied Holland, “I don’t know, but I’d like to try.” Brody was intrigued by Holland’s in-


novation, and Holland was excited by Brody’s suggestion to build on it. Each credits the other as the project’s inspira- tion and extols the other’s dedication, passion, diligence, and genius. Soon, Holland found himself on a



mini-sabbatical at Jefferson, working alongside eminent physicians and scien- tists to test his theo- ries on live cancer cells. Bringing along

several suitcases of equipment, Holland slept in the medical students’ dorm by day and spent undisturbed overnights in the lab from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. One challenge was to choose from a

wide range of frequencies to beam at the cells. “Specific frequencies kill specific cells and can leave those around them un- harmed,” explains Holland, who is inter- ested in every aspect of acoustics. In the end it wasn’t a single frequency, but com- bined waves, that seemed to accomplish the task. “I could see the transformation of the cells under the microscope in real time and in time-lapse photography,” he recalls. “There were big and subtle changes in their sizes and shapes as the cells bombarded by specific frequencies disintegrated. Then I would hand the tis- sue over to Jonathan and his staff to de- termine what was happening.” Under the micro-

scope, the team has

seen promising re- sults with several types of cancer cells, so Brody and Hol- land are eager to advance the innova- tive, possibly lifesav- ing technique to real cancer cases. But things move slowly in the science world, especially with test- ing on live subjects. The next step, says Brody, will be to test the frequency beam-

ing device on mice and then to get per- mission to try it on humans. “I’m a musician, not a scientist, so it’s

really surprised me how receptive the medical world has been,” says Holland. One stunning moment came after he ad- dressed a group of physicians at Jefferson about his theories. A surgeon approached him after the talk and handed Holland his card. “He said, ‘I have lung cancer and no treatment is working on it,’” Holland recounts. “He offered to be a guinea pig. He said, ‘I’ll stand in front of your ma- chine, if I can.’ I was rattled to the bone. But, you know, I would stand in front of it too—my hair wouldn’t fall out, and it wouldn’t destroy my immune system. I definitely believe in it.” So far, Brody believes in it too, appre -

ciates its high stakes, and knows his in- volvement lends credibility to what might otherwise be considered a bit wacky. He praises his liberal arts educa- tion at Skidmore for cultivating his open- ness to interdisciplinary collaboration and his ability to experience “aha mo- ments” when he can draw abstract paral- lels, connecting medicine to art in ways that may, in this case, literally save lives. “This is an extraordinary use of data,”

EDITOR’S NOTE For a narrated video of

Holland’s cell-blasting work, CLICK HERE

Brody concludes. “We’re bringing garage science into prime- time research.” — Helen S. Edelman ’72

FALL 20 10 SCOPE 7


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