The global burden of iron overload
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There have been major developments in the field of iron metabolism in the past decade following the identification of the HFE gene and the mutation responsible for the C282Y substitution in the HFE protein. While HFE-associated hemochromatosis occurs predominantly in people of northern European extraction, other less-common mutations can lead to the same clinical syndrome and these may occur in other populations in the Asian-Pacific region. The most common of these is the mutation that leads to changes in the ferroportin molecule, the protein responsible for the transport of iron across the basolateral membrane of the enterocyte and from macrophages. Recent research has unraveled the molecular processes of iron transport and regulation of how these are disturbed in hemochromatosis and other iron-loading disorders. At the same time, at least one new oral iron chelating agent has been developed that shows promise in the therapy of hemochromatosis as well as thalassemia and other secondary causes of iron overload. It is pertinent therefore to examine the developments in the global field of iron overload that have provided insights into the pathogenesis, disease penetrance, comorbid factors, and management.