Objectives and methods of iron chelation therapy

C. Hershko*, A. Abrahamov, A. M. Konijn, W. Breuer, I. Z. Cabantchik, P. Pootrakul, G. Link

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Recent developments in the understanding of the molecular control of iron homeostasis provided novel insights into the mechanisms responsible for normal iron balance. However in chronic anemias associated with iron overload, such mechanisms are no longer sufficient to offer protection from iron toxicity, and iron chelating therapy is the only method available for preventing early death caused mainly by myocardial and hepatic damage. Today, long-term deferoxamine (DFO) therapy is an integral part of the management of thalassemia and other transfusion-dependent anemias, with a major impact on well-being and survival. However, the high cost and rigorous requirements of DFO therapy, and the significant toxicity of deferiprone underline the need for the continued development of new and improved orally effective iron chelators. Within recent years more than one thousand candidate compounds have been screened in animal models. The most outstanding of these compounds include deferiprone (L1); pyridoxal isonicotinoyl hydrazone (PIH) and; bishydroxy- phenyl thiazole. Deferiprone has been used extensively as a substitute for DFO in clinical trials involving hundreds of patients. However, L1 treatment alone fails to achieve a negative iron balance in a substantial proportion of subjects. Deferiprone is less effective than DFO and its potential hepatotoxicity is an issue of current controversy. A new orally effective iron chelator should not necessarily be regarded as one displacing the presently accepted and highly effective parenteral drug DFO. Rather, it could be employed to extend the scope of iron chelating strategies in a manner analogous with the combined use of medications in the management of other conditions such as hypertension or diabetes. Coadministration or alternating use of DFO and a suitable oral chelator may allow a decrease in dosage of both drugs and improve compliance by decreasing the demand on tedious parenteral drug administration. Combined use of DFO and L1 has already been shown to result in successful depletion of iron stores in patients previously failing to respond to single drug therapy, and to lead to improved compliance with treatment. It may also result in a "shuttle effect" between weak intracellular chelators and powerful extracellular chelators or exploit the entero-hepatic cycle to promote fecal iron excretion. All of these innovative ways of chelator usage are now awaiting evaluation in experimental models and in the clinical setting.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)151-168
Number of pages18
JournalBioinorganic Chemistry and Applications
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2003


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