The researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York said injections of the protein, known as transferrin, also protected the lab animals against potentially fatal iron overload, which is often the result of treating the blood disorder that affects millions of people worldwide.
The scientists said their findings could extend well beyond thalassemia to include other types of anemia, including sickle cell anemia and myelodysplastic syndromes -- both bone marrow disorders that often precede leukemia -- if future research shows the protein is effective in humans.
"People who have thalassemia or other types of anemia need frequent blood transfusions over many years to correct the problem," Professor Mary Fabry, one of the study's authors, said. "But the human body has no way to get rid of the massive amount of iron in the transfused blood, and the resulting iron overload -- especially its accumulation in the heart and liver -- is often fatal. Our study suggests that treatment with transferrin could prevent this."
The study appears in the early online edition of the journal Nature Medicine.