Novel drug combination may help patients with anemia

Anemia, a decrease in red blood cells, is sometimes treated with corticosteroids such as prednisone or prednisolone.  While effective at increasing red blood cell production, corticosteroids may also cause a host of side effects, including decreased bone density, immunosuppression, stunted growth, and cataracts.

The lab of Whitehead Institute Member Harvey Lodish has discovered a potential approach to reducing these harmful side effects by adding a drug from a class known as prolyl hydroxylase inhibitors (PHIs).

Red blood cell progenitors

© Blood, 2010. Red blood cell progenitors called burst forming unit-erythroids (BFU-Es). The drug combination of PHIs and corticosteroids increase BDF-E self-renewal (causing them to divide more times before maturing), thus increasing red blood cell production.

In research published recently, first author Johan Flygare, a postdoctoral researcher in the Lodish lab, found that when PHIs are combined with corticosteroids to treat anemia, they are 10 times more effective at increasing red blood-cell production. Such a boost in efficacy could allow for lower doses of corticosteroids, thereby reducing the incidences of harmful side effects.

Lodish believes that the combination of PHIs and corticosteroids could improve treatment of a number of anemias, including those caused by blood loss, sepsis, malaria, and kidney dialysis.

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