In 1930 a German biochemist, Otto Warburg, discovered that tumor cells are the effect of metabolic disorder in healthy cells. According to him, a tumor should be interpreted as a disturbance in functioning of mitochondria. He claimed that cancer cells do not use oxygen to produce energy, but get it from decomposition of glucose. In 1931 he received a Nobel Prize for his findings in this field.
Warburg also pointed out that a connection exists between a low pH level in the cancer cell and the progress of the disease. It was connected to a means, by which the cancer cells gained energy – the fragmentation of glucose. As an effect of this process, considerable accumulation of lactic acid and a strong concentration of carbon dioxide caused the pH of the environment of tumor cells to oscillate around 6.0. Warburg claimed that the higher level of pH meant a greater concentration of oxygen, while lower pH meant a smaller concentration. As the years passed, the findings of the German researcher were forgotten. For many decades that followed, scientists thought that mitochondria in tumor cells are irreversibly destroyed.
In 2006, a Canadian researcher, Dr. Evangelos Michelakis from the University of Alberta, came back to this theory. He asked a question -“ what would happen if the functioning of mitochondria could be restored?” To find an answer, he decided to use a substance known for over 20 years “ Dichloroacetic Acid (DCA)“ a substance used to treat lactic acidosis by reactivating the mitochondria. In January 2007, a reputable periodical “Cancer Cell” published the results of the study conducted by the Canadian researchers led by Dr. Michelakis. The scientists transplanted the tumor cells (brain, breast and lung) to rats. For 3 weeks they have been giving them DCA diluted in water. After 3 weeks passed it turned out that the progress of the disease was stopped in both cases of in vivo and in vitro. Mitochondria were activated and “ it suggested that they were not damaged as it was previously believed. They were inactive temporarily. As the mitochondria reactivated, the cells gained a new property” – a possibility of apoptosis, which was blocked earlier. Because of this, the tumors shrank. After 3 weeks their mass decreased by 70%. Interestingly, the substance used only worked against the cancer cells, leaving the healthy cells intact. Dr. Dario Altieri, the director of the Cancer Center at the University of Massachusetts Medical School notices that this research shows that we may gain control over the tumor, stop its progress, destroy it, or make it more vulnerable for other forms of therapy.
Despite such promising results, the private pharmaceutical concerns are not interested in conducting clinical trials. This results from the fact that DCA is a simple molecule and as such cannot be patented. Therefore, it cannot bring profit to a given company. Fortunately, in September of 2007, the Canadian research team managed to initiate clinical trials with human participants. This was only made possible due to funding from private sources. 50 volunteers with brain cancer (glioblastoma multiforme) participated in the trials. In March 2008 an article was published in a reputable periodical “Nature”, indicating that DCA works on the same biochemical trials as pyruvate kinase, which is responsible for control over means of conversion of glucose oxygen or oxygen free. According to commentators, DCA seems to switch back the cellular biochemical trails to oxygen breathing.