The study of DCA in the treatment of cancer is indeed in its infancy. DCA is not a miracle drug or a demonstrated cure for cancer. DCA has, however, demonstrated significant potential and has garnered the interest of the oncology community at large and its patients. It deserves a good look and certainly warrants further study, and what follows is a brief overview of what we know and what we have seen as results thus far.
It is well characterized that cancer cells change the mechanism by which they metabolize energy, in a way that ultimately promotes cancer cell survival, the so-called "Warburg Effect". This accelerated, yet inefficient method of making energy (ATP), is one of the reasons why cancer cells are able to grow and divide at an unregulated, accelerated pace.
The Warburg effect is the observation that cancer cells are characterized by anaerobic glycolysis, despite the presence of oxygen. Malignant rapidly-growing tumor cells typically have glycolytic rates that are up to 200 times higher than those of their normal tissues of origin. [Glycolysis is the process of glucose conversion into the high-energy compound ATP. Anaerobic glycolysis is ATP production with limited oxygen.]
Otto Warburg postulated that this change in metabolism is a fundamental cause of cancer and a contributor to proliferation. It is further postulated that in cancer, this metabolic disruption is a result of damage to the mitochondria, which consequentially impacts typical mitochondrial respiration. This might explain a cancer cell's ability to adapt to and indeed thrive in low-oxygen environments within tumours. Furthermore, suppressed mitochondrial function within malignant cells may impact that cell's apoptosis (programmed cell death) program, which would otherwise kill cancerous cells.
So what does this mean? Cancer cells produce energy differently from normal cells, shifting glucose metabolism from the mitochondria to the cytoplasm. So what? It is felt that this shift is in part contributing to cancer cell resistance to apoptosis signals (programmed cell death), also controlled by the mitochondria. If so, reactivating glucose metabolism in the mitochondria could render the cells sensitive to those apoptosis cues, leading to cancer cell death and a reduction in tumour growth.
Enter DCA. DCA appears to work by turning on the natural cell suicide system called apoptosis, which is suppressed in cancer cells, allowing them to die on their own. DCA appears to inhibit glycolysis by altering the cancer cell's use of glucose, and starving the cell of energy. Ultimately, DCA seems to counter the typical suppression of the mitochondria and their apoptosis signals.
As a compound initially shown to shrink tumours in rats by correcting these metabolic oddities found in cancer cells, DCA has recently been tested in five patients with brain cancer. The results, published in Science Translational Medicine1, provide clues into how this small molecule, relatively old and inexpensive, drug works. Even though it is too soon to say with certainty whether it will provide an effective treatment against cancer in humans, we remain optimistic. 1-Michelakis, E. D. et al. Sci. Trans. Med. 2, 31ra34 (2010).
The unique metabolism of most solid tumours (Warburg effect) may be associated with the resistance to apoptosis that characterizes cancer. This characteristic in cancer appears to be a common denominator of cancer abnormalities and may be associated with a (potentially reversible) suppression of mitochondrial function. DCA may contribute to the promotion of glucose oxidation over glycolysis. This reverses the suppressed mitochondrial apoptosis in cancer and results in suppression of tumour growth in vitro and in vivo. British Journal of Cancer (2008) 99, 989–994. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6604554 www.bjcancer.com. Published online 2 September 2008 & 2008 Cancer Research UK
DCA is a particularly compelling drug that should be examined and discussed for consideration in the integrated treatment of cancer. DCA can be administered both orally in capsule form or intravenously. Integrated Health Clinic is working closely with Medicor Cancer Centre, and Dr. Akbar Khan, in Toronto to better understand the benefits and risks associated with the use of DCA. We collectively continue to refine the efficacy and safety of the protocol, to date we are seeing encouraging results (data which we are collecting).
We encourage you to connect with us at the Integrated Health ClinicTM Cancer Care Centre to learn more about how DCA may apply to your particular situation.