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The University of Alberta is working to develop what they hope will be a cheap and simple cure for cancer. Apparently, a simple molecule called dichloroacetate or DCA (pictured above) is currently being tested as a treatment to shrink cancerous tumours. According to research done by a 1930 biochemist named Otto Warburg, cancerous cells use a process called glycolysis to supply energy to themselves. DCA prevents this process, while leaving other bodily cells undamaged.

DCA is a drug that “boosts” the function of mitochondria. Mitochondria are the energy-producing units within cells and they regulate the energy production in the body (i.e. the metabolism). Cancer somehow suppresses the function of mitochondria and by achieving this it gains “eternal life”. We believe that cancer cells die when the mitochondria are “normalized” or boosted by DCA. Because these effects in mitochondria occur only in cancer and not normal cells, we believe that DCA will not have the significant side effects (hair loss, nausea, heart failure etc) that many standard chemotherapies have. – Taken from the DCA FAQ

Unfortunately, the fact that DCA has been around for a while is both a blessing and a curse. Due to it’s age, DCA cannot be patented, and as such is not worth the money that it would take to put the drug through the necessary clinical trials. Drug companies who put it through clinical trials would not be able to prevent rivals from making the drug themselves, and as such would not be able to charge exorbitant fees for it in order to remain competitive.

It seems ridiculous that such a huge discovery would be blocked by greed. It makes me wonder how well the concept of “open-source” would apply to the medical world. Just a thought…

For more information on what the University of Alberta and the Alberta Cancer Board are doing about this, please visit their website.

Originally found on: New Scientist Short Sharp Science blog: A cheap and simple cure for cancer?

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