Research is being conducted with Ehrlich ascites tumor cells in vitro to see if phosphoethanolamine could be used in cancer treatment.
There has been ongoing controversy and litigation in Brazil with regard to its use as a cancer treatment prior to approval by the National Health Surveillance Agency. In September 2015, administrators at the University of São Paulo attempted to prevent chemists at the São Carlos campus from continuing to unofficially manufacture, distribute, and promote the drug to cancer patients since it had not been tested in humans yet. In October 2015, several courts in Brazil ruled in favor of plaintiffs who wanted the right to try the compound. However, a state court overturned the lower courts' decision a month later. Jailson Bittencourt de Andrade, secretary for Brazil’s science and technology ministry, said the ministry plans to fund further research on the compound, but that it will be years before a determination can be made about phosphoethanolamine's safety and efficacy in humans.
On April 14, 2016, a law passed in Brazil allowing the use of synthetic phosphoethanolamine for cancer treatment. However, shortly after, the country's Supreme Court suspended the law.