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World J Methodol. Dec 26, 2014; 4(4): 197-218
Published online Dec 26, 2014. doi: 10.5662/wjm.v4.i4.197
Transition of Thalassaemia and Friedreich ataxia from fatal to chronic diseases
Annita Kolnagou, Christina N Kontoghiorghe, George J Kontoghiorghes
Annita Kolnagou, Christina N Kontoghiorghe, George J Kontoghiorghes, Postgraduate Research Institute of Science, Technology, Environment and Medicine, Limassol 3021, Cyprus
Author contributions: Kolnagou A reviewed the organisational health structure of thalassaemia and Friedreich ataxia in Cyprus; Kontoghiorghe CN contributed the literature background on recent developments on thalassaemia and Friedreich ataxia and critically reviewed the clinical and other aspects of the manuscript; Kontoghiorghes GJ designed, wrote and edited the manuscript including the mechanisms of iron chelation therapy and iron metabolism and toxicity.
Correspondence to: George J Kontoghiorghes, PhD, Professor, Postgraduate Research Institute of Science, Technology, Environment and Medicine, 3 Ammochostou Street, Limassol 3021, Cyprus.
Telephone: +35-72-6272076 Fax: +35-72-6272076
Received: May 25, 2014
Revised: September 24, 2014
Accepted: October 14, 2014
Published online: December 26, 2014

Thalassaemia major (TM) and Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) are autosomal recessive inherited diseases related to the proteins haemoglobin and frataxin respectively. In both diseases abnormalities in iron metabolism is the main cause of iron toxicity leading to increased morbidity and mortality. Major efforts are directed towards the prevention of these diseases and also in their treatment using iron chelation therapy. Both TM and FA are endemic in Cyprus, where the frequency per total population of asymptomatic heterozygote carriers and patients is the highest worldwide. Cyprus has been a pioneering nation in preventing and nearly eliminating the birth of TM and FA patients by introducing an organized health structure, including prenatal and antenatal diagnosis. Effective iron chelation therapy, improved diagnostic methods and transfusion techniques as well as supportive therapy from other clinical specializations have improved the survival and quality of life of TM patients. Despite the tiresome clinical management regimes many TM patients are successful in their professional lives, have families with children and some are now living well into their fifties. The introduction of deferiprone led to the elimination of cardiac failure induced by iron overload toxicity, which was the major cause of mortality in TM. Effective combinations of deferiprone with deferoxamine in TM patients caused the fall of body iron to normal physiological ranges. In FA different mechanisms of iron metabolism and toxicity apply to that of TM, which can be targeted with specific iron chelation protocols. Preliminary findings from the introduction of deferiprone in FA patients have increased the hopes for improved and effective therapy in this untreatable condition. New and personalised treatments are proposed in TM and FA. Overall, advances in treatments and in particular of chelation therapy using deferiprone are transforming TM and FA from fatal to chronic conditions. The paradigm of Cyprus in the prevention and treatment of TM can be used for application worldwide.

Keywords: Thalassaemia, Friedreich ataxia, Prenatal diagnosis, Survival, Chelation therapy, Deferiprone, Deferoxamine, Cyprus

Core tip: Thalassaemia major (TM) and Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) are inherited diseases related to iron toxicity, with high morbidity and mortality rates. Cyprus has the highest frequency of TM and FA worldwide. Prenatal diagnosis and other health policies almost abolished the birth of TM and FA patients in Cyprus. Deferiprone has increased the survival and quality of life of TM patients, who are now reaching normal life expectancy and it is also promising for FA patients. Personalised treatments are proposed for TM and FA. The Cyprus experience can be used as a paradigm for the prevention and treatment of TM worldwide.