Via my colleague, PharmCanuck, comes news of an in-depth radio program on dichloroacetate (DCA) that aired this past Tuesday on CBC’s, “The Current.” As a reminder to readers who aren’t already bored senseless of my discussion of this chemical, DCA is a small molecule freely-available in the public domain that was shown to slow the growth of human lung tumors implanted in rats by researchers at the University of Alberta. I’ve posted on this issue a number of times and have been well outposted by my surgical oncology blogging colleague, Orac at Respectful Insolence.
(Real Audio segment: 21:54)
The segment opens with a moving discussion with “Sandra,” a breast cancer patient who comments frequently at thedcasite.com and has foregone conventional treatment for her cancer. She has chosen to take a naturopathic approach and is also taking DCA; given the relatively high cure rates for many types and stages of breast cancer, it pains me to hear her story not knowing whether her staging is one that is highly curable with conventional treatment.
She is followed by Jim Tassano, operator of buydca.com, who comes off as pretty slimy and disingenuous. Nowhere in his interview is his original claim of looking into DCA for his dance instructor friend with cancer. He also brushes off the interviewer’s question as to how much money he is making from the sale of DCA and proposes to “take this thing international.” I don’t pretend to know his intention$, but the interview did him no favors.
Interestingly, U of A researcher Dr Evangelos Michelakis refused to be interviewed for this lengthy segment.
Jo-Anne Nugent is the Director of Communications for the University of Alberta, and she offered us [The Current] a written statement. Below is a section from it:
Dr. Michelakis does not want to appear to be ignoring the emotional status of the patient being interviewed. However, he feels that it is irresponsible for him to appear side by side with a patient taking DCA and someone who may be selling it or prescribing it for the treatment of cancer. Dr. Michelakis believes that self medicating may cause harm and wants to let science decide whether DCA is indeed safe and effective.
Interviewed instead was Dr Chip Doig, Associate Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary and the past Chair of the Research Ethics Board at that University. Dr Doig expresses the understandable concern for Sandra and her decision to forego conventional, potentially curable treatment.
For me, his interview was the highlight of the program in that he tried to place in proper perspective that DCA is an experimental cancer treatment whose scientific promise is being overinterpreted by individuals self-medicating outside the controlled conditions and careful monitoring and documentation of a clinical trial. Doig specifically notes that there are many, many therapies currently at the level of promise of DCA as detemined from animal studies whose real human potential has yet to be seen; he also expresses the concern that DCA’s apparent safety in other settings (as in congenital lactic acidosis) does not mean it will be safe in cancer patients when taken alone or together with other drugs. In addition, Dr Doig also addresses the shortcomings of testimonials that seem to be fueling Mr Tassano’s sales of DCA. As Orac and I have said on a number of occasions, use of DCA outside of a clinical trial may ultimately hamper its long-term potential if it indeed proves useful as a cancer treatment adjunct.
If you have time this weekend, the radio piece is worth a listen: (Real Audio segment: 21:54)