Can you say “dichloroacetate”? If you remember anything from high school or college chemistry, you may recognize some of the elements of that rather lengthy and difficult name that seem to refer to certain household cleaning fluids–namely chlorine (bleach) and acetone (nail polish remover). Actually, it’s not quite that toxic. Although it shares some molecules with chlorine and acetate, these molecules have been rearranged and combined with carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules to create a drug that has a long history in veterinary medicine as well as in the treatment of certain metabolic disorders in humans. About a year ago, evidence surfaced indicating that the drug–also known as DCA–might be an inexpensive and effective treatment for some forms of cancer. Unfortunately for those cancer patients who could benefit, DCA is not patentable–which means none of the big pharmaceutical corporations would stand to make money on it, Therefore, it seems unlikely that clinical trials are going to happen, at least in the U.S., where cancer drugs are an important source of profit. A study was done in Canada at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, however. At this point, it is helpful to understand that normal cells use the process of oxidation for energy, whereas cancer cells use a process called glycolosis. The irony of oxidation is that, while oxygen is necessary for life, it is also highly corrosive.
Ultimately, oxidation causes cells to die off in what is known as apoptosis, or “cell-death” (also the reason for aging). Glycolosis, in which cells metabolize blood sugar in an abnormal way that is similar to the fermentation process, prevents apoptosis, making the cells virtually immortal (to the point that their growth interferes with the functioning of bodily organs). The U.A. study demonstrated that DCA could restore proper oxidation processes in cells, causing tumors to shrink. The findings have yet to be published in formal medical journals, however. Meanwhile, in the absence of any serious interest from private pharmaceutical corporations, Dr. Evangelos Michelakis, who worked on the original U.A. study, has solicited donations online to further his research. Some evidence indicates that patients may suffer from neurological side effects. One Japanese study reported that patients began walking unsteadily and suffered from symptoms of fatigue and lethargy after a month on DCA treatments.