A Cure for Cancer?

by Jonathan Kolber

The notion of a single “cure for cancer” has sometimes seemed as elusive as power from hot fusion. Again and again, over the years, various substances have been tested and found promising, only to fail more rigorous and complete tests.

This, by the way, is a primary reason why I have not added cancer stocks to the Transformational Technologies Portfolio. Many sound good standing alone, but I always have the concern that they will fail the later tests or be eclipsed by something else. (Of course, deCODE genetics, ticker DCGN, has developmental compounds that appear effective against certain cancers, but that company is a holding for other exciting reasons).

Now comes a discovery from Canada that may upend the apple cart. Science News reports that a well-established drug called DCA kills cancers by turning off their notorious immortality. Unlike developmental compounds, DCA has been used for many years to treat other illnesses and is therefore known to be safe.

Furthermore, it is off patent, so it can be purchased cheaply.

Scientists at the University of Alberta cultured human cancer cells outside the body and found that DCA killed lung, breast and brain cancer cells, but healthy cells were left alone. Likewise, rats that had been infected with human cancer showed drastic improvement over the course of several weeks.

What’s particularly intriguing about DCA is that it works on a mechanism of cancer cells that cannot be eliminated by the cells and yet is lacking in normal cells. This makes it potentially ideal as a treatment.

Unlike normal cells, cancers produce energy in the body of the cell rather than in mitochondria. This is known as glycolysis, and consumes huge quantities of sugar.

Previously, researchers have all assumed that cancer cell mitochondria were kaput. The Canadian experiments have proved that this is false. DCA rejuvenated the cancer cells’ mitochondria, upon which the cells died.

Prof. Evangelos Michelakis, the team leader, believes that cancers located in an abnormal but benign lump can’t get enough oxygen for mitochondrial activity, so they turn off the mitochondria and use glycolysis.

Mitochondria perform another function in cells; they serve as a kind of “quality control” mechanism. Specifically, when a noncancer cell performs abnormally its own mitochondria kill it. This helps to explain why cancer is relatively rare in a lifetime. It also explains why cancer cells are immortal.

According to Dario Altieri, director of the University of Massachusetts Cancer Center, “(mitochondria) impart a unique trait to cancer cells that can be exploited for cancer therapy.”

Another benefit of the breakthrough is that it apparently explains the formation of so-called secondary cancers – those that spread like invaders from the primary source. Lactic acid, a byproduct of glycolysis, dissolves the collagen holding cancerous tumors intact. This frees some of the cancer cells to migrate and attack other parts of the body.

DCA does have occasional side effects. It sometimes causes pain, numbness and walking problems. However, I think most would agree this is trivial if it can cure this scourge in a person who’s afflicted.

The researchers don’t know yet, but they believe that DCA may just kill all cancers. Clinical tests of cancer patients are planned. These will require money from charities, universities and governments, because pharmaceutical companies won’t pay for a discovery that cannot be patented.

I have never suggested this to readers of ECR, but if you are looking for a good charitable contribution please consider contacting the University of Alberta and supporting this work. It could save millions of lives, quite probably including someone you love.

Editor’s Note: Jonathan Kolber is a noted technology analyst and entrepreneur. He co-founded the company behind the disposable DVD movies offered by Disney and other studios, and is working with a team of experts to commercialize orphaned energy technologies. He often consults to and invests in early-stage technology companies.