New cancer treatment hailed as a breakthrough, but since it's based on a common, non-patented drug, it may be hard to find money for clinical trails:
A simple molecule, used for decades to treat children with rare metabolic diseases, commits "immortal" cancer cells to a natural death and could soon be used to treat many forms of cancer, according to a new study.
University of Alberta researchers were excited to discover that dichloroacetate (DCA) causes regression in several cancers, including lung, breast and brain tumours.
DCA, a non-toxic compound comprised of "a couple of oxygens, a couple of chlorides and a couple of carbons," appears to repair the damage that cancer cells cause to mitochondria -- the energy- producing units in cells.
Mitochondria regulate cell death and because cancer cells suppress their mitochondria, they achieve "immortality," Dr. Michelakis said. This appears to offer cancer cells a significant advantage in growth compared to normal cells as well as protection from many standard chemotherapies, he said.
DCA "puts life into the mitochondria," making cancer cells more susceptible to apoptosis -- a natural cell suicide mechanism that enables a person to control cell numbers and kill off cells that threaten his or her survival, he said.
DCA, being so small, is easily absorbed into the body, and after oral intake, it can reach areas in the body that other drugs cannot -- making it possible to treat brain cancers.
It could one day be used in conjunction with traditional chemotherapies, Dr. Michelakis said.
"The DCA will enable the cell death mechanisms and then chemotherapy would have a much easier job; you could use lower doses and [the chemotherapy would be] less toxic," he said.
DCA affects cancer cells without affecting normal ones, he added.
Because the inexpensive drug has been used on both healthy and ill patients for 30 years, it can be immediately tested on people suffering from cancer, Dr. Michelakis said.
But because DCA is not patented and is not owned by a pharmaceutical company, it will be a challenge to find funding to begin clinical trials, he said.