Beta-thalassemia and sickle cell anemia (SCD) represent the most common hemoglobinopathies caused, respectively, by deficient production or alteration of the beta chain of hemoglobin (Hb). Patients affected by the most severe form of thalassemia suffer from profound anemia that requires chronic blood transfusions and chelation therapies to prevent iron overload. However, patients affected by beta-thalassemia intermedia, a milder form of the disease that does not require chronic blood transfusions, eventually also show elevated body iron content due to increased gastrointestinal iron absorption. Even SCD patients might require blood transfusions and iron chelation to prevent deleterious and painful vaso-occlusive crises and complications due to iron overload. Although definitive cures are presently available, such as bone marrow transplantation (BMT), or are in development, such as correction of the disease through hematopoietic stem cell beta-globin gene transfer, they are potentially hazardous procedures or too experimental to provide consistently safe and predictive clinical outcomes. Therefore, studies that aim to better understand the pathophysiology of the hemoglobinopathies might provide further insight and new drugs to dramatically improve the understanding and current treatment of these diseases. This review will describe how recent discoveries on iron metabolism and erythropoiesis could lead to new therapeutic strategies and better clinical care of these diseases, thereby yielding a much better quality of life for the patients.
Keywords: Hemoglobinopathies, iron metabolism, erythropoiesis, mouse models, hemochromatosis, hepcidin, ferroportin
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