Old drug works new tricks for iron overload heart disease

Researchers at the University of Toronto and Toronto General Hospital have made a discovery that could prevent damage to the heart, pancreas and pituitary gland from excess iron with a simple pill. This could save many lives around the world and spare patients from the cumbersome treatments currently available.

The scientists have found that oral medications currently used to treat hypertension are also effective at blocking excessive iron from entering certain critical organs and causing permanent damage. Their new research is published in the Sept. 15 issue of Nature Medicine.

"Hereditary hemochromatosis and secondary iron overload due to illnesses such thalassemia and sickle cell anemia are genetic disorders associated with elevated iron levels that particularly affect people of North American, European, Mediterranean or Asian descent," says Dr. Peter Backx, professor of physiology and medicine at U of T in the Heart & Stroke/Richard Lewar Centre of Excellence and senior author of the paper. "What was never understood was why individuals with this genetic disorder are very susceptible to developing heart disease and dysfunction of the pancreas and pituitary gland. Why were these tissues so sensitive to elevated iron levels? We found that for these people, the same calcium channels that are critical for functioning in these organs by transporting calcium into the cells are also the culprits responsible for transporting iron and ultimately causing the damage."

L-type calcium channels are part of the body's natural functioning, explains Dr. Gavin Oudit, a PhD student in the clinician investigator program at U of T, a cardiology resident at Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network, and lead author of the paper. In the case of the heart, these channels allow calcium into the heart and cause it to contract. "For people with genetic disorders who have excess iron in their blood, however, the unfortunate byproduct of these calcium chann

Contact: Janet Wong
University of Toronto

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