The DCA zombie arises again

Remember dichloroacetate, also known as DCA?

This is a relatively simple compound that showed promise in rodent models of cancer four years ago, leading to an Internet meme that “scientists cure cancer, but no one notices.” It also lead to scammers trying to take advantage of desperately ill cancer patients. The whole sordid story is detailed in my series of posts, the most recent of which I wrote about a year ago and link to here. I’ve also appended a list of every post I’ve written on the subject since I first discovered DCA in January 2007. It’s a story of hope, fascinating cancer biology, and unscrupulous quacks trying to capitalize on a discovery before it’s ready for prime time.

Well, on the Internet, everything old is new again, and a four year old story has risen from the proverbial grave, zombie-like, to spread misinformation again, specifically Scientists cure cancer and no one takes notice. It’s basically the same article that originally appeared four years ago; it even links to the same execrable article in a student newspaper that I excoriated back then. You can even tell how old it is because it mentions only the cell culture and rodent experiments; it says nothing about the modestly promising clinical trial reported last year. Nor does it mention a recent case report mentioned by Steve Novella that links severe polyneuropathy and encephalopathy to DCA:

A 46-year old patient with melanoma which had metastasized to the lung and lymph nodes 2 years previ- ously, was admitted to the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital in The Netherlands because of confusion and gait disturbance. Four weeks before admission he had started taking capsules with identified DCA (400 mg, thrice daily, corresponding with 15 mg/kg/day) and vitamin A capsules (150,000 IU/day), prescribed by an alternative physician. On neurological examination he showed impaired mental processing, dysarthria and an unsteady gait. MRI of the brain and serum blood tests were normal. In the following days he became more confused, showed aggressive behaviour, had visual hallucinations and dysphasia. Cere- brospinal fluid (CSF) examination demonstrated normal biochemical parameters, no malignant cells and negative PCRs for neurotrophic viruses. Antineuronal antibody screening was negative. Both the DCA and vitamin A capsules were stopped on the day of admission. The DCA concentration in the CSF on day 2 after hospital admission was 78 lg/mL, as measured by liquid chromatography tandem mass-spectrometry. On day 16, the DCA CSF concentration decreased to 11 lg/mL, indicating an elim- ination half-life for DCA in the CSF of approximately 5 days. No serum samples for DCA measurement were available.

Meanwhile, the patient was treated with haloperidol and lorazepam. His confusional state improved within 2 weeks, but severe dysarthria remained. A bilateral facial nerve paresis (grade II), a profound sensory ataxia of arms and legs and a severe distal paresis of the legs were present on further neurological examination. He was unable to walk. Electromyography demonstrated a severe sensorimotor axonal polyneuropathy. In the following 8 months, all neurologic deficits gradually improved. Only a slight paresis of the foot extensors (MRC 5-) but no cognitive deficits remained.

None of this stops the zombie article from laying down the same sort of conspiratorial nonsense that we saw back in 2007, while commenters post links to dubious sources of DCA.

I’m not sure how or why this old story has bubbled up to the surface again. Apparently it’s shown up on Reddit and elsewhere and is generating a lot of traffic. In this, it reminds me of a certain story about how investigators at Wake Forest have confirmed some of Andrew Wakefield’s results, a story that pops up every now and then even though it’s at least five years old and, as far as I’ve been able to tell, based only on an abstract. Yet, every so often I see it popping up on my Google Alerts for “MMR and autism.”

Truly, nothing on the Internet ever dies completely.

For the record, here are 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)
  22. Finally, the FDA acts on
  23. Dichloroacetate (DCA) and cancer: Déjà vu all over again
  24. Evangelos Michelakis on dichloroacetate (DCA) and glioblastoma