EDMONTON, ALBERTA, CANADA – New discoveries at the University of Alberta overseen by Evangelos Michelakis suggest a milestone in the cure for cancer in the form of a drug called dichloroacetate – or DCA for short – that targets cancerous cells’ safeguard against self-destruction.
All normal cells are designed to die when no longer performing properly; their mitochondria activate a process called apoptosis that kills them off. Cancerous cells inhibit the mitochondria that kick off apoptosis, leading to cells upon cells that refuse to die – and thus cancer. DCA is designed to reactivate the dormant mitochondria and force the cancerous cells to consume themselves.
This is a basic fact of cancer and not unique to the breast, throat, lungs-which means that, if DCA indeed holds a cure, it would be a cure for all cancers. Perhaps more amazingly, a DCA cure would be not only universal, but inexpensive; dichloroacetate is neither costly nor difficult to manufacture. Indeed, it is already used in several existing medicines for diseases as diverse as lactic acidosis
No trials have yet been undertaken in human patients, only in human cells outside the body-and the laboratory mainstay, rats-but officials remain hopeful. It may require public funding, as pharmaceutical companies are unlikely to fund research that they cannot control and exclusively sell. DCA is unpatented and thus unprofitable. This issue has plagued cancer research before; one need only think back to developments in the use of Vitamin C to overwhelm cancer cells, not particularly well-funded by the corporate entities that wield the power in the health care world. The University of Alberta has already started an appeal to charities and individual investors through both traditional media and the Web.
If dichloroacetate’s role in mitochondria stimulation proves a breakthrough in cancer treatment, it will also challenge a basic notion of how we think about cancer. It is currently believed that cancerous cells resort to glycolysis, a crude energy-synthesization process consuming much important body sugar, because the mitochondria (normally responsible for producing energy) have been damaged. Michelakis’ work suggests that the mitochondria are in fact merely sedated.
Michelakis suggests that the technique could be used in conjunction with chemotherapy to reduce the debilitating effect of the latter. While DCA treatment may lead to some pain and fatigue, it would be a considerable improvement on the effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients.
While no promises are made yet, the University of Alberta pledges to keep the public educated on developments.