No Cure For Cancer

Posted by on May 15th, 2011 in bio-hacking, health, medical

I’ve gotten a lot of mail this weekend about the supposed new “Canadian cure for cancer” and while I hate to rain on parades, I thought I’d do a bit of fact checking before getting too excited.  There were a few things that made me scratch my head when reading the initial article. (Starting with the fact it’s a four-year-old piece on a notorious Content Mill site that is just now circulating.)  So, I went to a friend of mine, who has worked extensively in the field of nuclear medicine and this is what she had to say:

If you read the article it talks about how University of Alberta scientists have used a drug called dichloroacetic acid (DCA), and according to the article, Big Pharma aren’t interested because the drug is off-patent and they can’t make money off of it. So bang, the Canadians cured cancer and no one cares.

…Except that’s not really true.

University of Alberta scientists are currently working on small-scale clinical trials of DCA; according to their most recent update, they’ve trial-ed this on five patients–five–which is not a large enough sample for us to go ahead and say that cancer has been ‘cured.’

Furthermore, they don’t go into great detail, but what they do say isn’t that they cured any of those patients. “In some patients there was also evidence for clinical benefit, with the tumors either regressing in size or not growing further during the 18 month study.” No idea how many “some” of the five patients are, but clearly at least one of the five had further tumor growth during the 18 months. There’s also a note mentioned about how it took 3 months for the drug to reach therapeutic levels; three months in a glioblastoma patient is pretty damn long (a GBM is a fast-growing brain tumor that untreated will kill you in two to four months, on average; with treatment it tends to kill you in fourteen months, and it has a ridiculously low five year survival rate. The wikipedia page gives a decent overview.)

Anyway. Point being, this ‘magic bullet’ has been trial-ed on five people at this point, and they’re still very much in the clinical trials stage. This means we’re likely years off from the point where we have to start worrying who’s going to make money off of DCA as a cancer treatment, because we’re years off from knowing whether or not it’s actually, well, a cure. (Or, like most things in cancer treatment, just a promising treatment that helps some people and has some unpleasant side effects.)

If you’re worried about whether or not they’ll be able to get adequate funding (which, in all things scientific these days, is a well-founded concern), visit the U of A team’s home page, read what they’re doing, and make a donation if you think it’s something worth exploring further. But please, for the love of god, let’s not continue to propagate mistruths and obfuscations published by a website whose advertising slogan is ‘publish easily, attract readers, earn rewards.’ There’s a reason publishing is hard, and it’s not because Big Pharma makes it so–it’s because we publish scientific results in peer reviewed journals, and they’re held to fairly rigorous standards there.

I’m under no illusion that we will see a FDA approved, Big Pharma approved cure for cancer until pharmaceutical companies can figure out a way to charge more for it than the billions they rake in from cancer treatment each year.  But it’s way too early to imply that this avenue of research is the suppressed holy grail of cancer research.   Trust me – I’ve lost my father, my sister and all of my aunts and uncles to cancer and I’ve had my own scare – when a cure is developed, no matter how off the grid it may be, I’ll be thrilled beyond words.  But an out of date, poorly researched Hubpages article misrepresenting the work of a group of hard-working scientists is no reason to uncork the champaign and thaw out the Duke…

…not just yet at least.

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