Aggregating Skeptical Thought is being shutdown?

The drug DCA was brought to my attention on a recent podcast from The Skeptics Guide to the Universe (although none of their shownotes specifically list this as a topic of discussion I believe it was Podcast #101 (6/20/2007), if that’s not correct someone correct me and I’ll edit this post).

The basic (or most important) claim regarding the drug DCA (dichloroacetate) is that it is a cure for cancer. Now obviously this should automatically throw a red flag up for any normal person however this claim seems to have at least tentative scientific support, read about it in New Scientist (21 Feb. 2007).

The difference with this drug and other drugs is two-fold. The first difference is that apparently it is not a patentable compound, although I can’t find out why. Since this compound cannot be patented this has obvious ramifications for it achieving FDA approval, most notably what pharmaceutical is going to go to the time and expense to send this drug through clinical trials if they can’t patent it and therefore even make their money back let alone a profit.

 The second difference is in how this drug appears to fight cancer. I’ll quote from the New Scientist article I link to above since they say it so much more eloquently than I could,

DCA attacks a unique feature of cancer cells: the fact that they make their energy throughout the main body of the cell, rather than in distinct organelles called mitochondria. This process, called glycolysis, is inefficient and uses up vast amounts of sugar.

Until now it had been assumed that cancer cells used glycolysis because their mitochondria were irreparably damaged. However, Michelakis’s experiments prove this is not the case, because DCA reawakened the mitochondria in cancer cells. The cells then withered and died (Cancer Cell, DOI: 10.1016/j.ccr.2006.10.020).

Michelakis suggests that the switch to glycolysis as an energy source occurs when cells in the middle of an abnormal but benign lump don’t get enough oxygen for their mitochondria to work properly (see diagram). In order to survive, they switch off their mitochondria and start producing energy through glycolysis.

Crucially, though, mitochondria do another job in cells: they activate apoptosis, the process by which abnormal cells self-destruct. When cells switch mitochondria off, they become “immortal”, outliving other cells in the tumour and so becoming dominant. Once reawakened by DCA, mitochondria reactivate apoptosis and order the abnormal cells to die.

This drug appears to show a significant amount of promise, unfortunately this article is very light on the potential side effects (most likely because of the lack of any scientific study). The wikipedia article does list pain, numbness, gait disturbances as welll as neuropathy and neurotoxicity as a result of thiamine depletion as possible side effects (all have citations for further research). I won’t even pretend to know what all of that means I’m just giving the information ;)

So beyond this writeup on a promising cancer treatment drug (which I admit is cool in and of itself) the main reason for this post is the amount of attention and misinformation being promoted within the alternative health community, everything from “this is a miracle cure without side effects” to Big Pharma conspiracies. One of the most egregious examples has been the site,, operated by Jim Tassano which actively sells DCA “for animals” to anyone. Well guess what? The FDA has finally shut down the sale of DCA on this site although the specific allegations I can’t find anywhere (and if what Orac reports from’s messageboards is true there is likely no official record), although its sister site, is still putting this information out there while not selling anything.

I think it’s very important that something like this is run through clinical trials because while it might be everything it claims to be there may be some very significant side effects that need to be discovered and dealt with. The last thing you want is someone with very operable and curable breast cancer forgoing “traditional” treatment and instead takes “harmless DCA” that turns out killing her because of thiamine depletion or liver toxicity.

I think Kate Law, Cancer Research UK’s clinical trial director has the money quote,

“It is important that all new treatments are carefully investigated to make sure they are effective and safe for use in patients. DCA is no exception, so we are pleased that the FDA has taken the decisive action to limit the sale of DCA over the internet.”

If you want a lot more information from someone much, much smarter than I check out Orac’s blog Respectful Insolence regarding the latest on DCA also he has an excellent roundup of all his other posts on the subject.

Technorati Skeptic


Filed under: Health

One Response

  1. Johan says:

    There is a new overseas company called which is selling sodium dichloroacetate itsa free of patent chemical so you can have it.

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