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A New Drug For Cancer?
Feb 5, 2007, 9:42a - Health and Medicine

I just got back from interviews at Johns Hopkins Neuroscience yesterday, which is why I didn't hit my promise-to-post-on-Thursday for the third straight week :( But hopefully this news will make up for it.

According to an article in New Scientist, researchers at the University of Alberta have discovered that a drug called dichloroacetate (DCA) may be used to effectively treat a variety of cancers.

It seems a bit too early to tell, as the drug hasn't gone through human clinical trials. What's promising is that DCA preferentially kills cancerous cells in cultures cultivated outside the body, while leaving normal cells unaffected. It's been shown to work against brain, lung, and breast cancer, and it also shrank tumors in rats. So there's some hope that this drug could be used to fight many different types of cancer.

DCA is also free from patent restrictions, so if it works it could be manufactured and sold at relatively cheap prices.

How does it work? The researchers believe that it activates a cell-death mechanism in mitochondria that is deactivated when the cell becomes cancerous.

If you know someone who has cancer, you should probably share this information with them. More information about DCA can be found at this University of Alberta website.

Read comments (3) - Comment

Ken Dev - Feb 6, 2007, 3:20a
As a cancer researcher in the US, I was very interested in the report. I wrote to the researchers quite sometime ago asking for a copy of any published paper. I also suggested that India may be a good country to run the clinical trials with DCA, since it would cost a fraction of what it would be to run the same trial in Canada or the US.

nikhil - Feb 6, 2007, 9:25a
Hey Ken,

Thanks for the comment. I poked around a bit, and found these 2 publications:

1) WIPO patent "A Method Of Treating Cancer Using Dichloroacetate" (36 pages) -

2) "Spatio-Temporal Diversity of Apoptosis Within the Vascular Wall in Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH)" - - Apparently PAH and cancer are related

So there is a patent for this treatment, though I'm not sure if it's actually been granted or is still in the application process. I suspect that since it's owned by the University of Alberta and Canada has a strong bias toward super-cheap drugs, they won't require the patent to be licensed for manufacture and sale of the drug.

Ken Dev - Apr 1, 2007, 10:51p
I am sorry-- I picked up your comments only today. Thanks for the refs. I am getting the pdf version of the paper which appeared in Cancer Cell. Unless I look at the patent-- hopefully, I can access it-- I wouldn't know what is new. I thought DCA has been around for a long time. I also read about the two blogs that have been set up [Details in Nature Blog]. It looks like people, who are desperate and are terminal, are buying it, although it has not been tested in humans. It has been approved for use in animals. From what little I read, it seems that it is producing some numbness etc. and apprently it could be because of impurity. Well, even taxol gives numbness! If this very cheap drug can give an extra year or two, it is worth it. India has some world class synthetic chemists and I am sure they can produce it cheaply and scale it up.

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