Human DCA guinea pigs

This is one of around 500 stories one can find on the websites that semi-legally sell the experimental anti-cancer drug DCA, which Greek doctor Evangelos Michelakis uses in his cancer research: «I’m in the third stage of treatment with DCA. Most of the time I feel fine, thought a little weak, and sometimes I feel lethargic. Today I went for tests with great hopes since the pain from the tumor has disappeared in the past few days. The tumor has got smaller. Of course I did chemotherapy in January, so it might be because of that. I don’t think DCA is useless. Of course it’s not the silver bullet we all hoped it would be. Maybe it’s a good supplement to an existing treatment with chemical drugs and radiation.» Thousands of people, among them more than 100 Greek patients, have tried to treat their cancers with the help of the drug. For pets «At first the sites selling the drug used the pretext that they were selling it for use on pets, which is not subject to state control. But then they sent me e-mails asking about dogs weighing 80-90 kilos. Obviously it wasn’t for dogs,» explained Michelakis, by telephone. He estimates that around 200 people are currently treating themselves in a superficial, ineffective and dangerous manner. Most of the patients who share their experiences take the substance without the supervision of a doctor and of course without being part of any systematic clinical structure. «They document their experiences on the Internet and exchange information with each other, but that is not enough. They can’t tell whether our drug is doing them good or harm,» said Michelakis. A few years ago, Michelakis, a cardiologist in Alberta, Canada, observed that DCA helped cure pneumonic hypertension (a rare disease that resembles cancer). «DCA is simply a salt that inhibits a mitochondrial enzyme. Mitichondria produce energy in our cells. It determines whether carbohydrates will go into the mitochondria to create energy. The more carbohydrates enter the mitochondria, the more they energize them. But the mitochondria also control cell death. When they realize that they cannot create enough energy for the cell, they make it commit suicide so as not to damage the DNA of their offspring.» Until recently, scientists believed that mitochondria suffered the effects of cancer through the genetic damage that it causes through the cell. Now, said Michelakis, «we believe that cancer chooses to inhibit the mitochondria because it inhibits cell death, while producing energy by alternative means. DCA managed to reactivate the mitochondria, which in turn reactivated cell death. Thus the cells affected by cancer are killed.» At least two more studies supported the theory, creating hopes for more effective chemotherapy. That’s big news, but it is a long way from a reliable treatment. «Many potential drugs work wonderfully when tested on rats, but when we do clinical trials on humans, up to 95 percent of them are rejected,» said Michelakis. «We have learnt to think of the many and not the few. If you start giving this drug to a few people, without a well-designed clinical trial, you cannot draw negative or positive conclusions. People who are trying to treat themselves often ask me what they have to lose. A lot, is the answer. We often encounter cases where a doctor predicts a patient has another six months to live and the patient survives another three to five years. If this drug has serious side effects – which is something we don’t yet know – they may live for less time and with many problems.» Michelakis published his findings on January 17 this year. The Economist, Newsweek and New Scientist picked up the story and Michelakis was interviewed on CNN. That sparked the interest of cancer patients and also of smart operators who tried to sell the drug. DCA is only produced in two universities in the world, and has been used for 30 years to treat mitochondrial diseases. It is easily produced in a laboratory. The innovation is the notion that it might be used against cancer. And nobody has patented it. «On one hand it is good because it is not controlled by a pharmaceutical company, because they are interested in profits and not the drugs. On the other hand, if anyone can make it, we have no protection against such phenomena. That’s why the state must be vigilant. The Internet certainly facilitates such phenomena,» he added. Michelakis is modestly optimistic about his discovery: «We do seem to be hitting the Achilles heel of cancer, but the statistics are not on our side. The side effects of DCA itself and in combination with other drugs are still unknown. Clinical trials on cancer patients have just begun.»

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