Cancer Clinical trials Medicine

Will donations fund dichloroacetate (DCA) clinical trials?

I came across an interesting tidbit about dichloroacetate (DCA), the compound that the media and all too many bloggers are touting as some sort of cheap “cure” for cancer whose development is being ignored or suppressed by big pharma because it wouldn’t be profitable enough. I poured a bit of cold water on all of them yesterday, because most of their comments were based on false hope, given how few drugs that show promise in cell culture and animals actually pan out in human trials, and ignorance of how clinical trials for new cancer drugs work.

This particular tidbit is posted on the University of Alberta website, where the university is asking for donations to help fund the clinical trial that needs to be done to determine whether DCA is effective in humans or another dead end.

I have no objections to funding this clinical trial either all or in part by donations, although the implication that this trial depends on those donations is probably not true. After all, many charitable foundations hand out grants to fund biomedical research of all sorts, including even clinical trials, and they sometimes ask for donations to be targeted to to certain specific research projects. Given that the funding climate right now for research is pretty bad, it’s not unreasonable to try to extract funds from other sources, including donations, to take up some of the slack, and certainly DCA seems promising enough to warrant a fast track into clinical trials in humans.

Even so, this sort of blatant promotion (particularly the videos, in which reporters play up the big bad pharmaceutical company angle) does bother me a bit. The reason is that it places even more of a premium than I’m totally comfortable with on an investigator’s media savvy and skill at self-promotion over science and the investigator’s ability to use evidence and scientific arguments to sell his or her research than is already the case. If scientists start making a habit of bypassing peer-reviewed sources of funding to go straight to the public, whether out of desperation because traditional sources of funds have dried up or because it becomes perceived that this will get them more money, then mainly sexy, easy-to-explain science will attract donations. (Note the heavy use of TV-friendly computer images of shrunken tumors in the videos I referenced.) Worse, there is the potential for a lot of dubious science that would normally otherwise wither away to attract funds and take on another life just because the investigator doing the science knows how to play the media.

ADDENDUM: Walnut has posted his critique on Daily Kos as well.

All Orac posts on DCA:

  1. In which my words will be misinterpreted as “proof” that I am a “pharma shill”
  2. Will donations fund dichloroacetate (DCA) clinical trials?
  3. Too fast to label others as “conspiracy-mongers”?
  4. Dichloroacetate: One more time…
  5. Laying the cluestick on DaveScot over dichloroacetate (DCA) and cancer
  6. A couple of more cluesticks on dichloroacetate (DCA) and cancer
  7. Where to buy dichloroacetate (DCA)? Dichloroacetate suppliers, even?
  8. An uninformative “experiment” on dichloroacetate
  9. Slumming around The DCA Site (, appalled at what I’m finding
  10. Slumming around The DCA Site (, the finale (for now)
  11. It’s nice to be noticed
  12. The deadly deviousness of the cancer cell, or how dichloroacetate (DCA) might fail
  13. The dichloroacetate (DCA) self-medication phenomenon hits the mainstream media
  14. Dichloroacetate (DCA) and cancer: Magical thinking versus Tumor Biology 101
  15. Checking in with The DCA Site
  16. Dichloroacetate and The DCA Site: A low bar for “success”
  17. Dichloroacetate (DCA): A scientist’s worst nightmare?
  18. Dichloroacetate and The DCA Site: A low bar for “success” (part 2)
  19. “Clinical research” on dichloroacetate by A travesty of science
  20. A family practitioner and epidemiologist are prescribing dichloracetate (DCA) in Canada
  21. An “arrogant medico” makes one last comment on dichloroacetate (DCA)

Posts by fellow ScienceBlogger Abel Pharmboy:

  1. The dichloroacetate (DCA) cancer kerfuffle
  2. Where to buy dichloroacetate…
  3. Local look at dichloroacetate (DCA) hysteria
  4. Edmonton pharmacist asked to stop selling dichloroacetate (DCA)
  5. Four days, four dichloroacetate (DCA) newspaper articles
  6. Perversion of good science
  7. CBC’s ‘The Current’ on dichloroacetate (DCA)

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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