In a major breakthrough, scientists have discovered a gene which helps to regulate iron and haemoglobin levels, a finding they claim may soon pave the way for treatments for anaemia.
An international team, led by the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, has identified the new variant of a gene, TMPRSS6, by analysing the genome of 4,800 healthy individuals from Australia and the Netherlands.
According to the scientists, the gene has previously been linked to a severe form of anaemia -- and these findings provide information about the subtle natural variation in iron control amongst healthy people.
“An iron imbalance can lead to a range of diseases -- an overload can cause haemochromatosis which may cause liver failure; a deficiency may result in anaemia.
“This research gives us a better understanding of the genetic influences of iron control and red cell production. We hope to continue to search for other genes involved in the regulation of iron levels in otherwise healthy individuals,” Dr Beben Benyamin, who led the team, said.
In fact, the variant has been found to be common in all populations. It is estimated that 40 per cent of Europeans and 60 per cent of Asian populations have this variant.
“We have also found that the variant has an additive effect. A person with two copies of the variant has lower iron and haemoglobin levels than those carrying only one copy,” Dr Benyamin said.
The findings have been published in the latest edition of the ‘Nature Genetics’ journal.