Intestinal iron absorption is important because humans have no way to excrete excess iron. This inability to get rid of excess iron can create a condition known as "iron overload." It can lead to cardiac issues, cancer, diabetes and a slew of other illnesses.
University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher James Collins plans to use a $2.5 million grant to begin to regulate iron absorption in the intestines.
‘Iron overload is usually caused by an inherited condition called hemochromatosis. Excess iron can poison organs, which can lead to conditions such as cancer, irregular heartbeat, and cirrhosis of the liver.’
People with genetic iron-overload disorders, or hemochromatosis, could eventually benefit from the research that Collins and his team will conduct.
By focusing on a protein known to scientists as the DMT1 transporter, researchers hope to prevent iron overload in at-risk individuals. Normally, a person might absorb 15 percent of the iron he or she consumes.
A person with an iron-overload disorder, however, might absorb 30 percent, and over time, they're in serious trouble, Collins said. If you decrease the expression of DMT1 in the intestine, maybe you can prevent the iron overload.
Collins, an associate professor in the UF/IFAS department of food science and human nutrition, was recently awarded the 5-year grant from the National Institutes of Health. He'll work with investigators from Georgia State University and the University at Buffalo.
Scientists working on Collins' grant want to know if the DMT1 transporter is primarily responsible for excess iron absorption, to assess whether it is a suitable therapeutic target to prevent iron overload.
Initially, the researchers want to prove that DMT1 is the protein that mediates iron loading in rats and mice. Simultaneously, collaborators at Georgia State will study whether nanoparticles derived from edible ginger can deliver drugs that reduce DMT1 levels and thus block iron absorption in the intestines.
Assuming researchers prove that DMT1 regulates iron in lab rodents and that they successfully develop the ginger-derived nanoparticle delivery system, they hope to move into human clinical trials in the not too distant future, Collins said.