Overlooked drug beats cancer, confirms
“nutty” theory of what causes it
December 4th, 2016 by Holly Cornish
“These kinds of results to my mind are as good as it gets,” enthused Professor Evangelos Michelakis, a cancer researcher from the University of Alberta in Canada back in 2007.
He and his team succeeded in shrinking human brain, breast and lung tumors implanted into rodents by 70% in just a few weeks, with no side effects. Their acheivement sparked a huge amount of interest in the cancer community at the time.
Prof. Michelakis was hopeful that human trials would soon follow. But there was a problem. . .
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The pharmaceutical drug he used in the research study was long out of patent and extremely cheap. That meant no drug company was interested in pursuing it. He would have to rely on private or government funding. Not much was forthcoming.
Nine years on there has been little in the way of human research, but some pioneering cancer centers are making use of dichloroacetate or DCA, and they are getting some exceptional results.
The salt and vinegar molecule
DCA is a very simple chemical resembling a combination of salt and vinegar with an additional chlorine atom.
It has been used in medicine for decades mainly to treat a rare metabolic disease called congenital lactic acidosis, so a considerable amount of research had already been conducted before the University of Alberta team came along.
The method by which DCA works against cancer harks back to the observation made by Nobel Prize-winning scientist Otto Warburg back in the 1920s, that cancer cells derive their energy in a different way from healthy cells.
Normally cells generate most of their energy by utilizing oxygen in the mitochondria, the power plants of the cell. These structures can also trigger faulty cells to commit suicide, a process called apoptosis.
In cancer, however, the mitochondria generate energy by a fermentation process, mainly without the presence of oxygen. It’s a process that depends on the availability of sugar. Cancer cells are also able to switch off the mitochondria and evade apoptosis.
DCA works by rebooting the mitochondria so the cancer cell recognizes itself as abnormal and self-destructs.
The first human trial, also conducted by the Canadian team, involved 49 patients with advanced glioblastoma — an aggressive form of brain cancer. Adding DCA to tumor samples confirmed that the mitochondria are turned back on.
When the researchers administered DCA to five of the patients for 15 months, they found, after comparing before and after tissue samples, that cancer cell growth was suppressed, more cancer cells were undergoing apoptosis, and the metabolism of stem cells — believed responsible for the recurrence and spread of cancer — was altered. Four of the five patients lived much longer than expected.
The Michelakis studies had a big impact because they challenged the prevailing view that mutated genes cause cancer, not faulty metabolism in the mitochondria – in other words, the metabolic theory that originated with Warburg.
Mainstream researchers assume that a cell’s switch to a different source of energy takes place after it turns into a cancer cell, not that a cell turns cancerous because of a change in the way it generates energy, which is what Warburg believed.
Prof. Michelakis said, “The timing was right because the metabolic theory of cancer was being born [again].”
Other lab research since has shown that DCA:
- builds up in the body over time
- is able to penetrate the brain
- reduces the growth of blood vessels that tumors need to grow
- causes apoptosis in endometrial, epithelial ovarian and malignant brain tumors
- is effective against advanced cervical carcinoma
- has antiproliferative properties and generates apoptosis against breast cancer
- produces cytotoxic effects in prostate cancer cells
- reduces colon tumors by up to 40%
- encourages the death of glioma stem cells
- has positive effects on aggressive neuroblastoma
- enhances the effect of other cancer drugs
DCA case reports
While research into DCA continues, if you or someone you love has cancer you probably want to know if you should seek out this treatment now.
There are no controlled clinical trials. However, a number of case reports have been presented and most have been published in medical journals.
Researchers from the International Strategic Cancer Alliance in Oregon published the case of a man who relapsed after conventional treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Full clinic records, pathology, imaging and lab reports were available to document that after using DCA as the only therapy, he experienced complete remission and remained well four years later.
Dana Flavin from The Foundation for Collaborative Medicine and Research, Greenwich, CT presented the case of a 51-year-old man suffering from medullary thyroid cancer that had spread to the lung.
Conventional therapy brought him partial remission, but he relapsed, and all attempts at recovery failed. He then started on DCA. Six months later, a PET scan showed dramatic reduction of tumors. He remained in remission nearly a year later.
Dr. Walter Lemmo, a naturopathic physician in Vancouver, Canada, presented two adult cases. In the first, a patient with a type of brain tumor called anaplastic oligodendroglioma was given DCA because the patient wanted the tumor eliminated even though her condition was stable.
After several months of DCA treatment “the tumor was either dead or inactive.”
The second patient had lung cancer with brain metastasis. She was not expected to live more than a few months, but following the introduction of DCA she survived another 64 weeks.
Dr. Gurdev Parmar from the Integrated Health Clinic, Fort Langley, Canada, reported the case of a patient with stage 4 colorectal cancer who was no longer receiving chemotherapy because of a lack of benefit. The patient had no evidence of the disease after nearly one year on DCA. Another patient with the same disease, rapidly metastasizing, became stable after receiving DCA and has remained so for two years.
The approach of one pioneering doctor
One doctor with a great deal of experience in using DCA is Akbar Khan, MD, medical director of Medicor Cancer Centres, Toronto, Canada.
Originally a skeptic of unorthodox approaches, he only admitted a naturopath into his private cancer clinic in 2006 to stop patients from self-medicating with vitamins and herbs, etc., and not informing him.
He said he “didn’t expect much in the way of benefit” but it wasn’t long before his opinion took a 180º turn.
“I was amazed by how many problems conventional medicine has no answer for, yet natural medicines provide safe, effective, and inexpensive solutions.”
Dr. Khan’s view is now quite different: “My greatest concern is helping patients. If it works, who cares where it comes from?”
He started to use DCA after seeing the results of the Michelakis studies. He saw good responses in the first 20 patients and has continued using it ever since, in combination with other therapies.
Not everybody responds to DCA, but about six to seven patients out of ten do.
Originally DCA was taken orally, but it’s now used intravenously as well. Taking DCA by mouth usually causes side effects. These can include numbness in the fingers and toes, memory problems, confusion, behavior changes and even hallucinations.
However, by combining DCA with R-alpha lipoic acid, acetyl L-carnitine and benfotiamine (a derivative of vitamin B1) these side effects are minimized, allowing the liberal use of an effective anti-cancer agent that would otherwise have to be used sparingly.
Dr. Khan has also published five case reports. The first of these was in 2012. A 72-year-old woman who suffered from metastatic kidney squamous cell carcinoma was treated with DCA for three months following radiotherapy. Imaging studies showed no sign of metastatic disease. This was still the case four years later. Five years on, the patient remains well and lives a normal, active life.
The last case report was published in the World Journal of Clinical Cases in October 2016. Oral DCA therapy was able to stabilize stage 4 colon cancer in a 47-year-old woman for what is currently almost four years.
In addition to the three clinics mentioned in Canada, DCA therapy is also available from Sunridge Medical Wellness Center in Scottsdale, Arizona.
There’s a big world of alternative cancer treatments, if only more people would take notice. In our last issue, we wrote about bee venom as an effective cancer therapy. If you missed it, you can catch it just below.
Bee Sting Therapy
Yields a New Cancer Treatment
I’m not a devoted student of all the health advice poured out by movie star Gwyneth Paltrow, so I can’t comment on that one.
But when she claimed an old injury “disappeared” thanks to an ancient therapy, it did capture my attention. This was something worth looking into.
“People use it to get rid of inflammation and scarring. It’s actually pretty incredible. But man, it’s painful.”
Well, Gwyneth, it would be. Bee stings are painful. . .but apparently helpful, too. . .
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It seems that venom from bees stimulates pain-killing endorphins, lowers inflammation and boosts the immune system. Bee venom also has antibacterial and antiviral properties.
The therapy was practiced in Egypt, China and Greece over two thousand years ago.
Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine” recognized the benefits of bee sting therapy for treating arthritis and joint disorders.
Today, bees have become a buzzword in science circles (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Medical researchers think they can utilize another action of bee venom – its ability to act strongly against tumors.
Nanobees target cancer cells
It’s not possible to inject the large doses of bee venom required for cancer patients without causing a bigger sting than anyone planned on. A large dose of bee venom can cause damage to heart and nerve cells, cause bleeding under the skin and damage red blood cells.
To use it safely, scientists at Washington University School of Medicine took melittin, the most important active ingredient in bee venom (it makes up about half its dry weight), and attached it to nanoparticles.
These are synthetically manufactured ultra-tiny spheres.
They are a product of medical nanotechnology, a cutting-edge advancement that manufactures things by manipulating single atoms and molecules.
The combination of melittin and nanoparticles is called nanobees. Once injected, they circulate in the bloodstream and head straight for the tumor. When they arrive, they go on the attack.
Tested on mice, the bee venom extract carried by nanobees slowed the growth of breast cancer by nearly a quarter. Skin cancer shrank by three-quarters and precancerous lesions were wiped out. Damage to healthy cells was minimal.
Cancer cells are poked to death
Nanobees destroy cancer cells by apoptosis, a naturally occurring method of cell death. The therapy achieves this by opening pores in a cancer cell’s membrane to allow its contents to escape.
This is preferable to an external method of cellular destruction (e.g. chemotherapy), that can also damage or destroy healthy tissue.
A member of the study team, professor Samuel Wickline said:
“In effect, we’ve got something that does what a bee does except it’s a synthetic particle. It’s got a stinger and injector.
“The nanoparticle attaches itself to the cell of choice and then the melittin material comes off the particle and goes directly into the cell without going into the bloodstream.”
Another member of the research team, Dr. Paul Schlesinger, said melittin “has been of interest to researchers because, in high enough concentration, it can destroy any cell it comes into contact with.
“Cancer cells can develop resistance to many agents that alter gene function or target a cell’s DNA. But it’s hard for cells to find a way around the mechanism that melittin uses to kill.
“Nanobees are an effective way to package the useful but potentially deadly melittin so it neither harms normal cells nor gets degraded before it reaches its target.”
At the University of Illinois, Dr. Dipanjan Pan and colleagues have created their own version of nanobees, which they hope will be even more effective.
They too have slowed or halted growth in breast and melanoma cancers. They’ve also discovered compounds in bee venom that can stop cancer stem cells.
Referring to stem cells, Dr. Pan commented, “That’s what we are interested in – those are the cells responsible for metastasizing and also responsible for having the cancer cells grow back. If we can target better using this technique, we potentially have a better cancer treatment.”
Making melittin pH sensitive
In recent years, many researchers have tested melittin to confirm it acts by attacking the cell membrane.
At low doses the effect doesn’t last long. At higher concentrations, the pores remain stable and stay open. At higher doses still, the cell membrane completely dissolves.
Lab studies show melittin can inhibit tumor cell proliferation and promote apoptosis in cancers of the breast, skin, bones, liver, lung, bladder, prostate, ovaries and in leukemia.
The potential for melittin is so great that Gregory Wiedman of Johns Hopkins University has been testing a novel way to deliver the bee peptide to cancer cells safely and effectively.
He has created a library of over 18,000 different melittin mutations from its sequence of 26 amino acids.
The idea is that because cancer cells have a lower pH (i.e. they’re more acidic) than blood, a form of melittin that is sensitive to this will, while retaining its cell-puncturing capability, be able to zero in on tumors while leaving normal cells alone.
Evaluating each mutation could take him quite some time.
Meanwhile there’s another type of sting that’s creating quite a buzz.
Wasp venom kills tumors, too
Not to be outdone by bees, wasps have also demonstrated their cancer killing potential.
While most of the 30,000 species of wasp are solitary and the majority don’t sting, there are a thousand species of social wasp that build colonies. In these, the females do sting.
One such social species, Polybia paulista from Brazil, produces a venom that contains a potent cancer-fighting compound called MP1. Like bee venom, this is able to puncture holes in tumors.
Previous lab research found it could inhibit the growth of bladder and prostate cells and was also successful with multi-drug-resistant leukemia.
But how it worked was a mystery. Now, researchers at the University of Brazil believe they have come up with the answer. It revolves around two fatty compounds found in healthy cell membranes.
These phospholipids are called phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE). Both are located on the inner membrane of a healthy cell.
But in cancer cells these two lipids are located on the outer surface of the membrane. This allows for a targeted therapy.
MP1 brings on cancer destruction in two stages.
First, PS increases the ability of MP1 to bind to the membrane by a factor of 7 to 8. This causes pores in the membrane to open and leak out its contents. Second, PE allows these holes to be 20 – 30 times larger than they would have been without it.
One of the research team, João Ruggiero Neto of São Paulo State University, Brazil, commented:
“Formed in only seconds, these large pores are big enough to allow critical molecules such as RNA and proteins to easily escape cells. The dramatic enhancement of the permeabilization induced by the peptide in the presence of PE and the dimensions of the pores in these membranes was surprising.”
Furthermore, MP1 was selective to cancer cells and non-toxic to normal cells in their experiments.
80 bee stings? Yikes!
It will take years of further lab work before human trials can begin on cancer patients.
In the meantime, if you want to avail yourself of Ms. Paltrow’s advice and get yourself stung for its other health benefits, beware!
Before you allow injections of the venom, or live bees placed on your skin to sting you, make sure you work with a fully qualified practitioner.
Depending on the health problem, the therapy may involve getting stung up to 80 times. One person out of 50 has an allergic reaction, which in rare cases can be severe and even fatal. It’s essential to undergo a test sting with epinephrine on standby in case this reaction, called anaphylactic shock, takes place.