Sunday, January 28, 2007

New weapon against cancer? DCA (dichloroacetate)

Scientists and patients are buzzing about DCA Newsweek 1/23/07 "If there were a magic bullet, though, it might be something like dichloroacetate, or DCA, a drug that kills cancer cells by exploiting a fundamental weakness found in a wide range of solid is an existing drug whose side effects are well-studied and relatively tolerable. Also, it's a small molecule that might be able to cross the blood-brain barrier to reach otherwise intractable brain tumors...lead author, Dr. Evangelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta, was deluged with calls and e-mails from prospective patients...DCA is a remarkably simple molecule related to acetic acid, better known as vinegar. It acts in the body to promote the activity of the mitochondria, the cellular structures where glucose is oxidized to provide energy; its main pharmaceutical use has been to treat certain rare metabolic disorders...the mitochondria have another function: they initiate apoptosis, the fail-safe process by which cells with damaged DNA destroy themselves before they can do damage. This goes on continually in the body. But when a cell turns cancerous, it begins processing glucose outside the mitochondria; the mitochondria shut down, and the cell becomes immune to apoptosis—immortal, until it kills its own host. Researchers have assumed that the mitochondria in cancer cells were irreparably damaged. But Michelakis wondered if that was really true. With his colleagues he used DCA to turn back on the mitochondria in cancer cells—which promptly died"

More on DCA here, and (in pdfs) NewScientist , The Economist (good article), Cancer Cell journal article, and U of A Express news

It seems that with solid tumors the ability to tamper with mitochondria so as to encourage apoptosis of cancer cells is key - as capsaicin showed as well. Although in the case of capsaicin there is an attack on cancer cell mitochondria via a binding of proteins which then encourages apoptosis. DCA seems to rejuvenate the mitochondria in some cancers so as to wake the ability of apoptosis.

There is a very important aspect to this story that needs more play. You might think that at least one drug maker would be rushing to get this to market and you'd be wrong. DCA isn't patentable in the traditional sense (only a use patent has been granted). So the researchers are trying to gather funding for further research.

The only notable side effects of DCA for some people are pain and numbness in parts of the body and it can affect gait.

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