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UVA Research May Improve Treatment of Anemia

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UVA
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Scientists at the University of Virginia report what may be an important medical breakthrough.  Laboratory testing shows the use of two cheap oral drugs can treat a common form of anemia. 

Billions of people around the world suffer from anemia – too few red blood cells to supply the brain, heart and other organs with oxygen.  At the University of Virginia, Professor of Pathology Adam Goldfarb says milder forms leave people feeling tired and unable to do vigorous exercise.

“More severe anemias can really be debilitating, with very high levels of fatigue, headaches, dizziness and persistent long-term anemias can lead to shortened lifespan as well,” he says.

Anemia can be caused by diets poor in iron, but in this country it’s commonly associated with diseases that cause inflammation.

“Infections, auto-immune disease, cancer, kidney disease and renal failure.”

Goldfarb says treatment usually involves injection of iron and a drug commonly called epo.

“It’s the same thing that Lance Armstrong took so that he could be a better biker," he recalls.  "It stimulated production of his red cells.”

Current treatments are expensive.

“We are spending, as a society, very large amounts of money on recombinant erythropoietin and intravenous iron to maintain this group of patients.” 

And because they’re injected, they’re inconvenient, so Goldfarb and a team of about a dozen scientists at UVA spent more than four years looking for an alternative. They found two inexpensive drugs that can be taken orally sparked red blood cell production in laboratory mice.

“One of the compounds is called isocitrate, and the other is called fumerate, and there’s a form of fumerate that’s being used for treatment of multiple sclerosis,” Goldfarb says.

UVA hopes to begin testing this combination in people with kidney disease in the next year.  

***Editor's Note: The University of Virginia is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief