Targeting metabolism: A new approach for treating cancer and cardiovascular disease

Medical and scientific research often lead us to new possibilities. A team of University of Alberta researchers, led by Evangelos Michelakis, are working to prove this statement true once again.

Michelakis, the director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Program in the Department.of Medicine, spoke about his team’s most recent work during a lecture series event at the U of A Calgary Centre on November 9, entitled “Targeting Metabolism: A New Approach for Treating Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease.”

Michelakis, who was honoured as researcher of the month for November by Canadians for Health Research, detailed the progress his team has made in recent months; successfully bringing the generic drug Dichloraoacetate or DCA from the laboratory to trial without the assistance of a drug company.

 “Establishing a clinical trial is a very expensive, complex issue and doing it without a drug company makes it nearly impossible,” said Michelakis. “The fact that we were able to accomplish this, even though the first trial at the U of A was small, opened a lot of eyes to the possibility.”

DCA has been used by doctors for decades to treat children with inborn errors of metabolism due to mitochondrial diseases. Michelakis’s laboratory research discovered that the drug can be used to target inhibited mitochondrial in cancer cells, essentially reprogramming them over time to function properly and reduce the excess glucose intake to the cells which causes them to die.

The initial 18 month clinical trial at the U of A was conducted with five terminally ill brain cancer patients. Incredibly, the trial was funded through donations from all over the world, from ten dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. Michelakis expressed to the standing room only crowd at the Calgary Centre how touched he has been by the outpouring of support, but was clear in his message that despite the positive results to this point there is a lot more work that needs to be done.

“We now have to establish several much larger clinical trials, involving non-terminal cancer patients, and this will require significantly more funding and the partnership of major cancer treatment centres,” said Michelakis, who is the first to admit that DCA is not a wonder drug.

Michelakis does believe that one day DCA could be an option that works in combination with current cancer treatment methods at lower doses and he is encouraged that other high profile cancer research groups are beginning to inquire about his teams work. For now, he believes his role is to inspire others to move the research of DCA forward. To learn more, visit www.dca.med.ualberta.ca.