There’s an article in the New Scientist about researchers who are using dichloroacetate (‘DCA’) to treat many different cancers. According to the article, here’s what DCA does:
Evangelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and his colleagues tested DCA on human cells cultured outside the body and found that it killed lung, breast and brain cancer cells, but not healthy cells. Tumours in rats deliberately infected with human cancer also shrank drastically when they were fed DCA-laced water for several weeks.
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.
I looked at the paper in Cancer Cell and the conclusions seem plausible, but I would be interested in what the professionals think of it. What does tumor reduction mean in a clinical sense? Is that actually significant, or do many compounds reduce human tumors implanted into rats? Finally, would it be possible for cells to develop resistance to DCA? I wouldn’t think so, since it seems to be a pretty small compound that could diffuse into the cell (although maybe a mitochondrial mutation could prevent the mitochondria from ‘reawakening.’)
My apologies if this has already been discussed. As the members of ScienceBlogs (and probably most of our regular readers) know, the search function is fubar.