Anemia study in Africa just failed. Here’s why you should care

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A promising treatment for anemia in developing countries failed in a landmark trial, revealing instead the “hard way” that iron supplementation does not always cure anemia. are rarely reported, but this case is special.

“We are acutely aware of the complexity of anemia in sub-Saharan Africa and pregnant women. Cosmos Science.

“I think we expected that, but maybe we were hoping that the iron dosage alone would overcome it.”

Most of us know someone who has had anemia. Menstruating people and pregnant women are particularly at risk. are amplifying these problems. In Africa, this culminates in anemia that affects nearly 50% of pregnancies.

Iron deficiency is one of the most common reasons people become anemic, but the two are not the same disease. Iron deficiency is a low amount of essential minerals in the body, while anemia is a lack of red blood cells in the blood.

New research published in lancet It was undertaken by researchers from Australia and Malawi.

“Prior to doing this, it was not known at all whether it would be dangerous to deliver intravenous iron or intravenous iron carboxymaltose in such remote areas where medical resources are limited.

“Also, there has always been concern that iron could actually promote infection by giving pathogens food to eat.”

In that regard, the trial of 862 women was a complete success. They were able to administer her FCM without any increase in infection or side effects. However, it was ineffective in stopping the anemia.

“This drug was superior to oral iron in alleviating iron deficiency,” Pasricha said. cosmos science“However, in our study it was not superior to oral iron in reducing anemia – at least not statistically significant.”

Also, babies’ birth weight did not increase in this study. This is an important indicator that a woman is able to provide her fetus with adequate nutrients.

In science journalism, we rarely hear about failed research. However, this does not mean that the research will always be successful. In fact, if you ask any scientist, they’ll probably tell you that they’ve failed far more often than they’ve worked.

But these failures can reveal something important or redirect efforts to new areas. , is one of the key failures to go against the trend.

So why haven’t these Malawian women’s anemia been stopped?

The team already knew that at least part of the anemia was not caused solely by iron deficiency.

The team excluded all people who tested positive for malaria at the start of the study because malaria causes red blood cells to burst and iron levels cannot correct it. prevents from using iron.

However, malaria has two forms. The normal form and the ‘hidden form’ in which the infection has dormant ‘hypnozoites’ in the liver are much more difficult to test. The large amount of inflammation seen in the women studied suggests that this may be more common than previously appreciated.

However, iron may help even when inflammation is present.

“Among the treatments, we give iron carboxymaltose, and it works, so we thought it might work in this setting, but it didn’t,” Pasricha said. say.

“We need a more comprehensive solution.

“We have samples here in Australia to better understand some of these processes, and that work is underway.”

This is the first of three studies by a team of researchers.

The first trial used iron injections in the second trimester of pregnancy, while the second trial will intervene in the third trimester. This can significantly increase a woman’s iron levels when her baby is only a few weeks or days old, helping curb anemia when she needs it most.

A third trial was conducted in malaria-free Bangladesh. Anemia is still a problem, but the epidemiology is different. This may give us a more definitive answer as to whether this hidden malaria is interfering with the way iron works.

“This is the first study, and as in any field, the first study is rarely the last,” Pasricha added.

“This study has opened the door to this area of ​​research.”

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