Alberta Cancer Foundation

New Possibility for Brain Tumour Treatment

University of Alberta researchers are using an unpatented drug to change the metabolism of cancer cells, giving new hope to patients with some of the deadliest forms of brain cancer.

The research team, led by Dr. Evangelos Michelakis, a professor in the department of medicine, tested dichloroacetate (DCA) on five patients with advanced forms of brain cancer. The team found that tumours in four of five patients either regressed, or stopped growing.

Dr. Michelakis says the study “doesn’t lend any strong evidence to say that the drug is safe or efficacious.” Michelakis says, instead, that the study was meant to show a new mechanism for treating tumours – by targeting the tumours’ metabolism.

DCA is a water-soluble powder that is taken orally. It can change the metabolism of gliobastoma brain tumour cells, which Dr. Michelakis describes as “one of the deadliest forms of cancer.” Though the study was not designed to show DCA is a cure for cancer, he says it does show a new way of treating cancer.

The results of the study were published in Science Translational Medicine in May, and are making waves both in Canada and the United States. The May 20 issue of the influential American science journal, Nature, praised Dr. Michelakis’ DCA work and argued “the United States should protect investments used to find new uses for old drugs.”

Since DCA is not a patent-protected molecule, “large pharmaceutical companies have expressed little interest in repurposing drugs – and at least two of the small companies that have tried have gone bankrupt.”

Private donations from organizations and philanthropists provided the bulk of the funding for the DCA research at the U of A. Dr. Michelakis says that donations from the community of Peace River provided more than $360,000 to the study.

Head and neck cancer can be ruthless, with a survival rate of barely 50 per cent.
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