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‘I was in excruciating pain from excess iron’

For years, Katherine Hough, 27, suffered from a series of mystifying symptoms.

“I had unexplained ..

For years, Katherine Hough, 27, suffered from a series of mystifying symptoms.

"I had unexplained stomach pains. Then when I got to university I began to faint frequently, my hair was falling out, I had severe joint pains and was constantly tired. My Mum thought it was down to my hectic student lifestyle."

A visit to her GP and two blood tests for iron levels revealed that she was suffering from genetic haemochromatosis or GH – a genetic condition which causes iron to overload in the body.

Most of us think of iron as a strength-giver and worry more about iron deficiency. There is little awareness of the risks of iron overload, and confusingly some of the symptoms, like fatigue, can be the same.

Says Katherine: "I was very lucky to get a quick diagnosis. A lot of health professionals believe women do not show symptoms until much later in life, which can then lead to potential organ damage.

"In the last year, I have had about 30 hospital and health visits. Today I suffer from chronic fatigue, IBS, and joint pains in my knees, hands and elbows. The only treatment for this is venesection, where I have a pint of blood removed every few months.

"I do feel lucky that I was diagnosed young as it allows me to monitor my health. Some days I am in excruciating pain, other days I am fine. But there needs to be more awareness of this condition."

What is genetic haemochromatosis?

  • GH is a condition which leads to the accumulation of iron in the organs of the body
  • In the UK, it is thought that approximately 250,000 people are at risk of GH, although many are undiagnosed, and the risk is higher for men than women
  • It is caused by a faulty gene – Northern Europeans with Celtic origins, particularly of Irish backgrounds, are more likely to carry the gene
  • Symptoms of GH include fatigue, joint disease, skin problems, and sexual health issues. Left untreated GH can cause serious illness such as liver cancer and cirrhosis.
  • Treatment is relatively simple and consists of venesection (bloodletting). As the body makes more blood to replace that taken, it uses up the excess stored iron.

Source: Haemochromatosis UK

'The most common condition you've never heard of'

A recent report by the charity Haemochromatosis UK (HUK) surveyed 2,000 people with the condition worldwide.

It found that 73% of patients suffered with psychological difficulties, 81% experienced fatigue and 87% experienced arthritis or joint pain.

Although most were satisfied with their treatment by specialists, about a third highlighted that information and support from GPs was poor.

The report was launched at the House of Commons, where MPs, campaigners and patients gathered to help raise awareness of the condition.

Dr Edward Fitzsimons, consultant haematologist, University of Glasgow, said: "Haemochromatosis is one of the most frequent genetic disorders found in North European populations.

"Yet it is a condition that all too easily escapes diagnosis.

"For every one patient diagnosed, there are some eight to 10 who are undiagnosed.

"It is without doubt the most common condition you have never heard of."

'I felt like an old aching lady instead of a young teen'

Abigail Harvey, 19, was diagnosed with haemochromatosis at just 15.

Up to that point she had suffered from severe period pain cramps and joint pain as well as depression. Aged 14 she was taken to hospital for attempting suicide.

"A lovely counsellor I was seeing suggested I get thorough blood tests.

"I had severe pains all over my body, and felt like an aching old lady rather than a young teen.

"Everyone around me thought I was anaemic, but it turned out I was suffering from too much iron.

"Many doctors I was seeing asked me to explain my condition! Why is it that so much is known about anaemia but not its evil cousin?"

Since diagnosis, Abigail has been treated with blood removal, with limited success.

"I can't stress enough to ask your doctor to check your iron levels if you experience any of these symptoms," she said.

David Head, chief executive of Haemochromatosis UK, said: "Abigail's story of menstrual problems, joint pains, mental health issues, delayed diagnosis and the tribulations of treatment will resonate with many patients.

"We cannot stress enough how important it is that healthcare professionals are as aware of iron overload as they are of iron deficiency, and test properly when patients describe these problems."

Follow Laurel Ives on Twitter.

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The organization helping to bring new drugs for rare diseases to market

A research team has reason to celebrate after the Food and Drug Administration granted it approval o..

A research team has reason to celebrate after the Food and Drug Administration granted it approval on Friday to begin a clinical trial for a new pediatric brain cancer drug, one that might have ended up overlooked by pharmaceutical companies.

The lead researcher on the team, Dr. Teresa Purzner has already beat impossible odds. The neurosurgeon and mom of three managed to get the approval in record time and with little money thanks to the help of a team of scientific altruists called SPARK.

The development of new medications in the United States is driven by pharmaceutical companies; researchers at universities rarely bring their discoveries to the bedside. For every 10,000 potential new medicines sitting on laboratory shelves around the country, only one will ever reach patients in need, according to the National Institutes of Health. Why? Because the process can take 10 to 15 years, costing upwards of a billion dollars per drug.

As a result, the number of new medications approved by the FDA has remained stagnant at about 31 per year over the past 10 years. The majority of these medications are similar to already existing ones, and many target diseases for which there are large markets — like hypertension and high cholesterol — and therefore, a return on investment.

Enter SPARK, a non-profit program created in partnership between Stanford University and volunteers from the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and investment industries, which helps academic researchers bring their discoveries to patients. Since its founding, SPARK has given special consideration to projects typically neglected by pharmaceutical companies, including rare diseases and diseases affecting children.

Purzner put her neurosurgery practice on pause to study medulloblastoma, a type of childhood brain cancer. Compared to diseases like hypertension and high cholesterol, which affect millions of Americans, medulloblastoma is rare, affecting only 250 to 500 children every year.

“Theres something especially poignant about seeing children —beautiful, wonderful, innocent things — and seeing the impact of the therapies we are giving them. The medications, the radiation therapies impact their cognition, their quality of life and their ability to function as independent adults in the future,” Purzner said in an interview with ABC News.

Purzner had a clear goal: to find a targeted therapy that could shut down the basic biochemical pathway responsible for the development of this cancer, and she did. She tested the potential drug in mice with good results, and she just received FDA approval to test it in clinical trials, which she will do through the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium. She did it all in five years and for a price tag of $500,000.

“To get from my initial findings in the lab to the point where the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium picked it up for clinical trials would have never happened without the help of SPARK… they gave me a clear pathway and made me believe it was possible,” said Purzner.

Every year, SPARK provides 10 teams with funding and expert mentorship to promote efficient and cost-effective drug development. (more…)

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Widowed father works with congresswoman on legislation to prevent maternal deaths

Sitting in the hospital room, mother and newborn baby were sound asleep.

“I was overjoyed. I reme..

Sitting in the hospital room, mother and newborn baby were sound asleep.

"I was overjoyed. I remember thinking my family is complete," Charles Johnson told ABC News.

But then he looked down and saw his wife Kiras catheter turn pink and then red with blood.

April 12, 2016 was supposed to be a joyous day for the Johnson family, but it turned into a "nightmare."

Ten hours later, Kira Johnson died as a result of internal bleeding following a cesarean section.

Now, two years later, Johnson is raising two children on his own and advocating to rectify the country's maternal health policies and regulations to prevent anyone else from sharing the same tragedy. Johnson took to Capitol Hill to share his wife's story before members of Congress, working alongside a congresswoman who experienced her own personal difficulties during pregnancy.

Charles and Kira Johnson welcomed their first son Charles V. in 2014. He was delivered via C-section. Two years later, the Johnson family relocated from Atlanta to Los Angeles and learned they were expecting their second baby boy.

"Kira and I had always wanted two boys," Johnson said. "I was excited."

The Johnsons decided to have Langston delivered at Cedars Sinai medical center, a non-profit hospital that is currently ranked as the eighth best hospital in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

Charles Johnson said his wife was in exceptional health and that she took all the necessary prenatal measures to ensure their second child would be born healthy. Since their first son was born via C-section, the doctor suggested the same for their second. (more…)

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States look to breathalyze convicted drunk drivers to reduce fatalities

This story is from Kaiser Health News

On Jan. 1, California joined the majority of states that ha..

This story is from Kaiser Health News

On Jan. 1, California joined the majority of states that have laws requiring drivers with drunken-driving convictions to install breathalyzers in vehicles they own or operate.

Researchers, public health advocates and political leaders believe these laws are helping reduce alcohol-related road deaths.

The gadgets, known as ignition interlock devices, are mounted on the steering wheel of a vehicle and prevent it from starting if the drivers blood-alcohol reading is above a predetermined level.

In California, the breathalyzers are mandatory only for repeat offenders. Five other states — Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana and Ohio — have similar laws. Thirty-two states and D.C. require the devices even for first-time offenders.

The advent of such laws across the United States in the past 15 years has been accompanied by some good news: Deaths involving drunken driving are only about half of what they were in the early 1980s, though they have ticked back up in recent years. The long-term decline is largely attributable to greater public awareness, stricter seat belt enforcement and the establishment in 2000 of a nationwide legal blood-alcohol threshold of 0.08 percent — far below the 0.15 percent standard commonly used before then.

State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), the author of the California law, said breathalyzers in cars will make roads safer than under the current law, which generally relies on license restrictions and suspensions.

“Weve seen people on a suspended license continue to drive and continue to cause destruction,” said Hill, who lost his best friend to drunken driving in the 1980s.

There is some evidence that the breathalyzers have an impact. Nationally, from 2006 to 2016, ignition-locking breathalyzers prevented 2.3 million attempts to drive by people with a blood-alcohol level at or above 0.08 percent — the legal threshold for driving under the influence — according to a 2017 report by the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Emma McGinty, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that laws requiring interlocks for all DUI offenders were associated with a 7 percent drop in the rate of fatal crashes caused by drunken drivers. Another study found that laws covering all offenders were associated with 15 percent fewer alcohol-related fatalities compared with states that have less stringent laws. (more…)

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