A Little Bit About Dichloroacetate, Can It Cure Cancer?

DCA Cancer Cure

University of Florida Cancer Hospital  Photo: WillMcC

University of Florida Cancer Hospital
Photo: WillMcC

If we could say that 5-12% of the population was going to win the lottery or even get a free sandwich for lunch we would count that statistic pretty low.  But when that statistic is reported by the National Cancer Institute on various types of diseases we cringe.  It feels like everyone either has survived cancer or has a relative who has struggled with the disease.

Pathology of Cancer

If you go to a pathologist, you are dealing with a person that specializes in the way a disease manifests itself in the body. We are used to the idea that we get the “flu bug” and can even picture how some microscopic virus may look like an insect when it gets inside of us.  Our body has an entire immune system designed to act in its own defense.  For many diseases, irritating or life threatening our immune system kicks off a series of both B and T cells that surround the invading party.

Interacting with the endocrine system, the body adjusts its temperature (fever) and/or another host of actions (sweats, runny nose) to help you heal.  So why doesn’t it notice cancer?  Cancer doesn’t have so much to do with a foreign invader as to having a cell that malfunctions.  For the body to continue functioning all cells have to have a life cycle.  They develop, serve their function and then die.  The regulated death of the cell is called apoptosis. The mitochondria inside of the cell regulate this timeline.

What has become clear to researchers is that cancer cells have faulty mitochondria and so the kill switch of the apoptosis fails.  The cell just continues to replicate and replicate creating a tumor, either malignant or benign.

Curing Cancer

The first efforts to cure cancer were simply to cut the tumors out and hope that the surgeon had gleaned all of the infected tissue.  The challenge with the first efforts was that if the surgery did not remove all the cancerous cells, then the tumor could come back again.  Even today when surgery becomes part of the intervention regimen this still can occur.  Surgery still occurs but with modern techniques it is much more localized and can even be reduced almost a microscopic level in some cases.

Radiation became the second prevalent cure for cancer.  Discovered in 1896 by Whilhelm Conrad Roentgen it was adopted as both a way to diagnose and cure the disease.  By using x-rays, doctors could do less exploratory surgery and the radiation was discovered to kill cancer cells.  The challenge with radiation is that it soon was discovered that extended exposure could also cause certain types of cancer.

Cancer growth can go through stages. With some types of cancer the patient won’t feel any discomfort or pain until the tumor has grown too large and it can metastasize.  This means that the tumor jumps to another organ or system in the body.  So over time with education efforts and improved technology people can get the tumors detected quickly.  This allows the intervention whether surgical or through radiation to be in smaller venues and doses.

DCA (Dichloroacetate)

Cancer treatments, however improved, have always been a delicate balance between a disease and a cure that could kill you.  Other researchers have looked for other ways to kill the cancer cells.  It is in the modern era of oncology research that people discovered that the malfunction in the cell can be pinpointed to the lack of apoptosis.  The cell just doesn’t die.  Dichloroacetate (DCA) is a manmade chemical discovered in 1864.  It has industrial applications and in its pure form will burn the skin.  It is sodium dicholoroacetate that has been explored as possibly curing cancer.

In 2007 Dr. Evengelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta discovered that when it came to the failure of apoptosis in a cell DCA was found to do what the mitochondria was failing to accomplish.  It was making a kill switch, and thus limiting the cancer cell growth.

While the initial findings are not debated officially the American Cancer Society will say there is not sufficient proof to recommend it as a regimen. The University of Alberta disagrees and is starting volunteer human clinical trials on a small scale to generate a more robust body of data around the use of DCA to cure cancer.  Because DCA cannot be patented, they say the lack of a profit motive by the pharmaceutical companies makes research difficult to continue with public funding.  Such a simple intervention would also potentially cut into the profit margins of a multi-billion oncology industry.