Every year brings hope for new cancer cures to the media forefront and this year started with a bang. A substance that was previously used in a metabolic disorder was tested on cultured human cancer cell lines in a Petri dish and mice with cancer and had very promising results.
The above paragraph has probably been stated every year for the past 30 years. First of all, do not expect your doctor to be prescribing this product anytime soon, a single experiment with mice is just the beginning of years of testing. Anyone who suggests it is going to help you soon is irresponsible or a con artist.
Unfortunately terminally ill cancer patients don’t have this time and will be getting their hopes up in vain, this happens every year when cancer research makes it to the mainstream news programs.
The substance is DCA or dichloroacetate and the study that tested it in cultured cancer cells and mice just came out in January of 2007 in a respectable scientific journal and by a respectable lab in Alberta, Canada headed by Evangelos D. Michelakis.
So why all the fuss ? It’s years away from helping humans even in the best case scenario? Yes, probably, but it does raise a few ethical debates and hopeful issues.
DCA has already been tested in people suffering from other diseases (adults and children), so we already know it is a reasonably safe drug to a point. This can potentially save years of clinical studies and safety hurdles than if DCA was a completely new drug. So very optimistically within one to two years it will begin limited clinical studies within people.
This is very optimistic because money is an issue with this drug. The drug is so cheap to produce that drug companies will not make money from it (it cannot be patented too, which makes it harder for drug companies to make money) and it has the potential to reduce the consumption of current expensive chemotherapies if successful. In other words, the drug companies will not be funding the research to make it to market, and most of you can probably guess that it takes a ba-zillion dollars to finance the research. This raises an ethical debate for drug companies by the public, that being, will they hinder development of helpful drugs if it does not help or even hinder their bottom line?
The lab that produced the results is doing something a little out of the ordinary to now raise money, they are actually asking the public directly to help with the funding. You can actually make a donation here http://www.depmed.ualberta.ca/dca/
This drug also raises another ethical question . Why not give it to cancer patients diagnosed with a few months to live? There are potentially thousands of patients who have gone through chemotherapy and reached the stage where chemotherapy is no longer useful and they are taken off it to die weeks later. There would be no shortage of people willing to sign a waiver to take DCA today.
How can a doctor tell a terminally ill cancer patient with a few weeks or months to live that they will not prescribe DCA because it’s potentially unsafe or lacks the correct administrative approval or hasn’t been shown to conclusively help in enough formal studies?
Well, most doctors won’t say that but they will say their hospital or governing medical association will not let them. These faceless administrations can hide and delay your requests for DCA till you die of old age, let alone cancer and no one will be blamed.
Essentially they are telling their patients to stop fighting cancer and just accept their death shortly, sorry, it’s a cold way to put it, but it’s hard to put a good spin on it. It’s not that the doctors do not care, it’s just the accepted way things have been done for decades.
Unfortunately, currently terminal ill cancer patients taken off chemotherapy so they can die in a few months have to rely on themselves, loved ones and caretakers at this point.
This is now forcing many non-healthcare workers to seek out DCA on their own. Nobody wants to see untrained civilians taking over cancer therapy duties but it’s going to happen with this drug as it can be taken orally in a glass of water and is inexpensive IF you get your hands on it. You cannot buy it at the corner store but I predict with great demand it will find a way to get out there and some con artist will even make fake DCA to sell them no doubt.
Who would of thought a small molecule could have raised debates about the business of healthcare, political healthcare administrations and the ethical treatment of terminally ill people.