Nature News reports this week that cancer patients are buying DCA - a new drug with anti-cancer properties - on the Net, end-running clinical trials and causing drug regulators and researchers consternation.
It seems to leave healthy cells untouched, has been relatively safe in human trials, can be taken by mouth and easily penetrates tissues. DCA blocks an enzyme in mitochondria - the energy-production centres in cells - causing more glucose to be metabolized in the mitochondria rather than by a different pathway in the cytoplasm. The compound has been in clinical trials for years as a treatment for certain mitochondrial diseases, but it has not yet been approved. Mitochondria also control cell suicide, and DCA might reactivate the mechanism of cell suicide that becomes inactive in cancer cells. After the first experiments with rats earlier this year, DCA was hailed as a “magic bullet” against all types of cancer.
Because DCA has been around for years, its structure can’t be patented and pharmaceutical companies aren’t interested in developing the drug (drug development, including years of clinical trials, cost a lot of money). So the scientist who reported the first promising results in rats is raising money and hopes to start his own small clinical trial within the next few months. In the meantime, a team of chemists have found a cost-effective way to synthesize the compound and started selling it (as a veterinary drug to work around FDA regulations) from the website buydca.com. They also set up the website thedcasite.com to collect the reports of cancer patients who decided to try this DIY cancer therapy.
Of course, this unconventional procedure has caused the outrage of the medical community. They insist that the correct procedure must be based on conventional clinical trials. But of course some patients, who are dying of cancer and do not have the luxury of waiting years to be admitted in a trial where they only have a 50% probability of being given the drug, have decided to buy DCA and just see what happens. If the reports are positive (too early to say atm), they could become a big wave.
We have seen all that before. My mother was one of those who decided to try an “alternative” cancer therapy and the results were, unfortunately, no good. But I hope the results of the DIY DCA trials will be good. I will follow the reports on thedcasite.com, and hope to see positive reports. None of the magic bullets against cancer proposed so far really worked. But sooner or later one that works will be found. I hope it will be something like DCA, not patentable and cheap to produce. In this case, as soon as the results of the first tests will be made public, patients will launch spontaneously a huge, open source clinical trial to see if it works. Is this happening now? I don’t know, but I really hope so.
Would I take DCA if I had 6 months to live? But of course I would - what the hell would I have to lose? And what harm would I do to others? I think that, regardless of the outcome of the DIY trial, I would be contributing useful data that can help others making their own decisions on their own health. To my knowledge, nobody has ever done a clinical trial for orange juice, with the control group taking perhaps machine oil, but the wisdom of crowds says that drinking orange juice is good and drinking machine oil is bad. Nobody has ever formally studied the benefits of eating healthy and working out while forcing a control group to spend years in front of the television drinking beer, smoking and eating French fries with mayonnaise. It just works.
Nobody has any right to prevent dying patients to experiment on their own health at their own cost and without damaging others. Not so much “ethics” please, and some more compassion and especially common sense. People have been experimenting with their own health for centuries, and often developed open source medicine that worked. But I fear DCA will be made illegal without any reason, just to “give an example” and to protect the dictatorship of the medical establishment. As soon there are indications that this might happen, they should move manufacturing and marketing abroad, to many different countries to avoid being hostages of a single national health system.
I am in favor of a strong and democratic public administration. But there are lines not to be crossed, beyond which a strong state becomes a dictatorship and democracy becomes a politically correct way to oppress minorities. For the sake of democracy, we must not let this happen.
Giulio Prisco is a writer, technology expert, futurist and transhumanist. A former manager in European science and technology centers, he writes and speaks on a wide range of topics, including science, information technology, emerging technologies, virtual worlds, space exploration and future studies. He serves as President of the Italian Transhumanist Association.
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