The Starfish Project

The combined effort of our whole family.

Cheap, “Safe” Drug Kills Most Cancers

with 3 comments

New Scientist has received an unprecedented amount of interest in this story from readers. If you would like up-to-date information on any plans for clinical trials of DCA in patients with cancer, or would like to donate towards a fund for such trials, please visit the site set up by the University of Alberta and the Alberta Cancer Board. We will also follow events closely and will report any progress as it happens.

It sounds almost too good to be true: a cheap and simple drug that kills almost all cancers by switching off their “immortality”. The drug, dichloroacetate (DCA), has already been used for years to treat rare metabolic disorders and so is known to be relatively safe.

It also has no patent, meaning it could be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of newly developed drugs.

Evangelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and his colleagues tested DCA on human cells cultured outside the body and found that it killed lung, breast and brain cancer cells, but not healthy cells. Tumours in rats deliberately infected with human cancer also shrank drastically when they were fed DCA-laced water for several weeks.

DCA attacks a unique feature of cancer cells: the fact that they make their energy throughout the main body of the cell, rather than in distinct organelles called mitochondria. This process, called glycolysis, is inefficient and uses up vast amounts of sugar.

Until now it had been assumed that cancer cells used glycolysis because their mitochondria were irreparably damaged. However, Michelakis’s experiments prove this is not the case, because DCA reawakened the mitochondria in cancer cells. The cells then withered and died (Cancer Cell, DOI: 10.1016/j.ccr.2006.10.020).

Michelakis suggests that the switch to glycolysis as an energy source occurs when cells in the middle of an abnormal but benign lump don’t get enough oxygen for their mitochondria to work properly (see diagram). In order to survive, they switch off their mitochondria and start producing energy through glycolysis.

Crucially, though, mitochondria do another job in cells: they activate apoptosis, the process by which abnormal cells self-destruct. When cells switch mitochondria off, they become “immortal”, outliving other cells in the tumour and so becoming dominant. Once reawakened by DCA, mitochondria reactivate apoptosis and order the abnormal cells to die.

“The results are intriguing because they point to a critical role that mitochondria play:

they impart a unique trait to cancer cells that can be exploited for cancer therapy,” says Dario Altieri, director of the University of Massachusetts Cancer Center in Worcester.

The phenomenon might also explain how secondary cancers form. Glycolysis generates lactic acid, which can break down the collagen matrix holding cells together. This means abnormal cells can be released and float to other parts of the body, where they seed new tumours.

DCA can cause pain, numbness and gait disturbances in some patients, but this may be a price worth paying if it turns out to be effective against all cancers. The next step is to run clinical trials of DCA in people with cancer. These may have to be funded by charities, universities and governments: pharmaceutical companies are unlikely to pay because they can’t make money on unpatented medicines. The pay-off is that if DCA does work, it will be easy to manufacture and dirt cheap.

Paul Clarke, a cancer cell biologist at the University of Dundee in the UK, says the findings challenge the current assumption that mutations, not metabolism, spark off cancers. “The question is: which comes first?” he says.

Source:  New Scientist


3 Responses

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  1. I have been reading about DCA lately, but haven’t found with such an in depth explanation how DCA works. It’s very interesting to learn that most cancer cells crate energy through glycolisis, which explains why a reduction in sugar in-take usually helps most cancer patients. Great info – thanks for the post!


    October 28, 2008 at 9:57 am

  2. Hi, Rick, thanks for your post. I found this post by Tracey very informative too. And, reducing or completely stopping sugar intake is imperative in killing cancer cells. My naturopath, Dr. Huber, says that cancer feeds on 2 things… sugar and stress. So, I have eliminated both of these from my life.

    Dr. Huber suggested liquid stevia as a sugar substitute but I find it leaves an awful aftertaste. BUT, I have found agave necter, an all natural sweetner with a very low glycemic index, and it is absolutely delicious. So, once again I enjoy my hot (or cold) tea sweetened and delicious! Try it… you’ll like it. 🙂

    You know, when I initially went to my conventional oncologist shortly after my lung cancer diagnosis on 8/18/08, I noticed all the candy dishes and boxes of chocolates on the check-out counter. But, at that time, I didn’t realize that sugar fed cancer. So, WHY do conventional doctors allow this? They know it too.

    Anyway, thanks for your post.
    Julia, a.k.a. The Starfish 🙂


    October 31, 2008 at 9:32 am

  3. Why do they allow it? That’s a really good question, after all these guys are some of the brightest in the country. I can only guess that they are trained to look for solutions through pharmaceutical drugs, and they develop a way of thinking that tells them that as long as someone takes the drugs that there is no need for further action. Fortunately, I believe more and more Doctors are coming around and seeing the benefits of preventative healthcare through advocating nutrition and other positive lifestyles.

    BTW – some brands of Stevia don’t have as severe of an after taste as others, and one good trick I learned was to mix a bit of Stevia with something like Agave nectar. This creates a good sweet taste with less aftertaste –

    thanks for the post starfish 🙂


    November 10, 2008 at 7:13 pm

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