A bizarre black market is forming around a simple laboratory chemical that cancer patients have pinned their last hopes for survival on. In January, New Scientist reported a discovery that sounded "too good to be true."
A Canadian researcher at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, tested dichloroacetic acid on human cells cultured outside the body and found 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," wrote Andy Coghlan.
But because the chemical is not patentable, Coghlan wrote, no incentive existed for pharmaceuticals to run the clinical trials necessary to make DCA legal as a cancer treatment. Soon two Web sites sprung up: one with the research papers and chat rooms to discuss DCA, and another site selling DCA supposedly for use in pets with terminal cancer. Both sites are run by a California man who operates a pest-control company. But both sites are under criminal investigation by the FDA, because DCA hasn't gone through clinical trials or been approved for human use. Even marketing DCA for pets is illegal.
Still, Evangelos Michelakis and his Canadian team, who made the discovery, have fielded thousands of emails and calls from people asking how much DCA to take. Michelakis tells New Scientist, "We're now getting emails from people asking for dosage information for, say, a 150-pound golden retriever."
But even Michelakis is warning the desperate people not to take DCA. And so are other doctors, even though at least one doctor with cancer is taking it. Michelakis fears that if anyone dies while taking DCA unsupervised, funding for clinical trials will disappear. He tells New Scientist, "We are trying to do this the right way, by putting it into clinical trials, and these websites could destroy all of this."