Has the Disease of Cancer Finally Met its Match? New Drug Causes Cancer Cells to Self-Destruct (Youtube)
August 4th, 2012
By Dr. Mercola
According to the American Cancer Society, the odds you'll develop cancer in your lifetime are one in two, if you're a man, and one in three, if you're a woman.1 But an experimental cancer drug shown to shrink tumors by correcting metabolic oddities in cancer cells shows promise in the fight against this deadly disease. The synthetic drug DCA (dichloroacetate) DOES indeed kill cancer cells, both in the lab and in human beings. However, whether it can reverse tumor growth without harming you in other ways remains to be seen.
The first clinical trial, although small, involving patients with brain cancer (glioblastoma) was encouraging, and the results were published in Science of Translational Medicine in 20102 . However, there is still a great deal more work to be done before DCA can be pronounced a safe and effective cancer treatment.
An interesting aspect of DCA is that it's an inexpensive, non-patentable molecule, which makes it of minimal value to pharmaceutical companies that profit by patenting expensive new drugs. Therefore, clinical trials are slow to get going due to lack of funding by Big Pharma. Researchers must await sufficient money to trickle in from government sources and public donations before moving forward.
In the paragraphs below, my aim is to give you information from both sides of the story—the potential benefits as well as the possible risks.
Rats Fed DCA Showed Dramatic Tumor Regression
The impetus behind most of the DCA research has been cardiologist Evangelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. In 2007, Michelakis and his colleagues sparked a firestorm of interest when they announced rats fed DCA showed rapid tumor regression without any apparent side effects. Michelakis has been the first to say these results are preliminary and cautions cancer patients to refrain from running out and buying the drug, prior to clinical trials.
Yet, many desperate cancer patients with few remaining options are doing just that, and side effects ARE being reported.
There are currently three clinical trials involving use of DCA to treat cancer that are currently recruiting participants3. Some of these studies plan to combine DCA with other chemotherapy drugs and radiation, all known to have damaging effects in your body. However, if you have cancer and are tempted to participate, there are some things you should know in order to make an informed decision about the risk versus the benefits of this experimental treatment.
Cancer Cells and Healthy Cells Have Different Metabolic Processes
In order to understand how DCA kills cancer cells, it is necessary to understand a bit about how the cellular metabolism of cancer cells differs from that of your normal, healthy cells. Cancer cells have very different metabolic processes than normal cells, in terms of how they derive their energy.4 It's a rather complicated distinction, so please bear with me as I try to explain it in the simplest terms possible.
There are two major pathways your cells use to covert sugar into energy: glucose oxidation and glycolysis:
- Glucose oxidationis the primary energy metabolism in normal cells and takes place in your mitochondria, which are the little "power plants" inside your cell; it requires the presence of oxygen, as its name suggests. This is why you breathe and your heart beats to circulate oxygen throughout your body. Glucose oxidation is sometimes referred to as cellular respiration.
- Glycolysis takes place in your cell's cytoplasm. It can occur without the presence of oxygen. Glycolysis is less efficient for normal cells, but it is acancer cell'spreferredmeans of energy metabolism, and it depends on the availability of sugar.
So, when your cells are oxygen-starved they have a backup plan. They can extract energy from sugar without the presence of oxygen, by glycolysis.
Pyruvate is required for glucose oxidation. There is an enzyme (pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase, or PDK) that acts as gatekeeper to regulate the flow of pyruvate into the mitochondria. If PDK is active, it suppresses the transport of pyruvate into the mitochondria, and your cell is forced to rely on glycolysis, even if oxygen is available. If PDK is inactive, pyruvate is shuttled into the mitochondria, even if oxygen is low.
Unlike normal cells, cancer cells are masterful at deriving energy from glycolysis—they have very active PDK. The way to make a cancer cell unhappy is by suppressing PDK, forcing the cell to use glucose oxidation, instead of glycolysis. This is called the Warburg theory of cancer, or the Warburg hypothesis5. This is where DCA comes in.
DCA Instigates Mass Suicide among Cancer Cells
DCA suppresses PDK (the mitochondrial gatekeeper), and this fires up the cell's mitochondria. Not only does this force the cancer cell to abandon its preferred metabolic process, but it flips the cell's "suicide switch" as well. This happens because mitochondria are the primary regulators of apoptosis, or cellular suicide—they are loaded with sensors that react to abnormalities by pushing the cell's self-destruct button.
When a cancer cell's mitochondria realize it's a cancer cell, it spontaneously kills itself. This is the reason chemotherapy and radiation result in such terrible side effects—your healthy cells actually die much more easily because of this self-destruct button.
The reason cancer is so fast growing is that the mitochondria have been deactivated, so the cells evade apoptosis, as well as being able to grow in the absence of oxygen (glycolysis)6. DCA reverses this.In effect, DCA directly causes cancer cell apoptosis and works synergistically other cancer therapies, such as radiation, gene therapy, and viral therapy. A number of scientific studies have been performed to date, and most are encouraging.