Now, if you think about the billions of dollars of drug development, many in the area of cancer therapeutics, how ironic is it a chemical cheaper than tylenol may hold they key to curing numerous cancers? We do want to emphasize the word may; all the research is still preliminary.
Still, finding a cure, one that could effectively treat numerous cancers, if not all of them, is indeed the holy grail. “As an oncologist we are always looking for a way to improve the way in which we treat cancer,” says Dr. Peter Kozuch, an oncologist with Beth Israel Medical Center. “That gets us very excited particularly if there is a novel mechanism of action which we think is happening with DCA.”
DCA--dichloroacetic acid—is a chemical used that was accidentally discovered to kill cancer cells…or rather, cause cancer cells to kill themselves. “It is a very small molecule, tiny molecule, has the structural similarities to vinegar,” says researcher Dr. Evangelos Michelakis, a cardiologist at the University of Alberta who has been studying DCA.
Yet, something so simple does something quite complex. It wakes up the mitochondria in cancer cells--the normal energy producing area of the cells, but shut off in cancer cells. The mitochondria appear to be also responsible for something called apoptosis, which means, normal cell death. In other words, cancer cells that don’t ever want to die, will die normally in the presence of DCA.
The effect was first seen in human breast, lung and brain cancer cells in a test tube. “And we inject them in rats that do not have an immune system. And the human cancer cells keep growing in the body of the rat as they would in a human being so then we give the rats the DCA, they drink it and we show the tumor stops growing and it shrinks,” says Dr. Michelakis. DCA is small, so it can penetrate all the tissues.
It’s already available. It’s given by mouth, not IV. And it’s already shown to be safe in humans. “We can be a little optimistic and motivated to move it to clinical trials immediately , which is what we are trying to do,” says Dr. Michelakis. But word has gotten out to patients; many are seeking the drug even though it hasn’t be tested in humans yet.
“The early in formation referring to DCA which is dichloroacetic acid is very intriguing but I want viewers to keep in mind that this is in pre-clinical or early phase testing. Sometimes the drugs that seem post promising gin a test tube or mouse models just do not come to fruition,” says Dr. Kozuch.
Dr. Michelakis says there is even a possibility this could make patients worse. It’s believed the drug will bypass phase one testing, which mostly looks at safety, and move to phase two. They will likely be looking at patients with advanced cancers who have not responded to other treatments.