Touching Lives - October 2010
Ironing out the unpleasant side effects of major health supplement
Worldwide, iron deficiency is responsible for almost a million deaths a year. Recognised as one of greatest risks to human health, it is a particular concern for babies, children and pregnant women. A lack of iron is a cause of anaemia, which can lead to infection, fatigue and concentration difficulties; evidence suggests it also affects young children’s development.
While iron supplements are available, their tendency to cause unpleasant side effects, such as abdominal pain and bowel irritation, is off-putting. Now, two scientists are developing a more digestible supplement that is similar to the iron forms found naturally in the intestine after eating.
Project leader Dr Jonathan Powell and Dr Dora Pereira are testing the effectiveness and safety of 10 iron formulations using artificial conditions as well as human cells. The doctors, who are experts in how the human body treats iron, believe this supplement will reduce the typical side effects and be inexpensive enough for widespread distribution.
The end of this 18-month project, funded by Action Medical Research and children’s charity WellChild, should bring a potential iron supplement ready for clinical trials. An estimated three million children in the UK could benefit from a safe and effective supplement for iron deficiency.
WellChild is also supporting another project funded by Action Medical Research to help identify brain damage in unborn babies. Currently, it is difficult to detect such problems as babies’ movements affect the quality of scans. Researchers are working to overcome this to provide superior images and ultimately improve diagnosis.