Way back in 1993, I was honored and quite overwhelmed by an invitation to attend a meeting with representatives of the World Health Organization, and thus became a member of what would later be referred to as the "First Unofficial Advisory Board on the Control and Prevention of Hemochromatosis." We met at Kyriat Anavim in Israel, and this meeting was followed by the first " BioIron" conference in Jerusalem, where experts from around the world gathered to present papers and answer questions. After this, fired with enthusiasm, I could not wait to get back to Canada and share with the Board and members of the Canadian Hemochromatosis Society all that I had learned. This would have to be postponed however, as, before I could leave the airport in Telaviv, I received bad news about a seriously ill, close relative in South Africa, and ended up in Johannesburg instead of Vancouver.
That is how it came about that the first newsletter of the International Association of Hemochromatosis Societies was written in, and circulated from, South Africa, and now, paging through a copy of that 17-year-old the document — in which I reported what I had heard Professor Laurie Powell of Austrlia say concerning "iron in the brain of Parkinson's patient," and the problem of its being behind the "blood-brain barrier," from where it could not be chelated — has me agonizing again and again about the snail's pace of progress.
It has long been known that iron can indeed accumulate in the brain. As far back as 1989, the late Dr. Leslie Valberg and others of the University of Western Ontario published an article on Abnormalities in Iron Metabolism in Multiple Sclerosis (Can J. Neurol.Sci, 16: 184 – 186). It is also commonly known that there is iron in the brains of Parkinson’s patients.
I have personally written reams about the effects of high iron stores on and in the brain, and this information appeared in both the IAHS newsletter in Johannesburg, and later was also published in the newsletter of the Canadian Hemochromatosis Society, in the August of 1993:
On November 21, 2009, I noted: Big news! I am drowning in emails from people advising me that, today, there is to be a special program on the Canadian CTV channel literally about “iron on the brain!” I’ve had to take my phone off the hook!
Six years after Oct. 22, 2003 when "Multiple Sclerosis Tied to Iron in Brain — Studies Point to Cause, Location of MS Brain Damage," was the heading of an article by Doctor Daniel J. DeNoon, published in WebMD Health News.
"Iron deposits deep in the brain may cause multiple sclerosis, new imaging studies suggest. … The findings," he wrote, "come from studies of computer-assisted brain scans using a specialized magnetic imaging device," and he then went on to tell that University at Buffalo, N.Y., researchers Rohit Bakshi, MD, and colleagues were the first to use this technique.
"Multiple Sclerosis has been considered a disease of the white matter in the brain and spinal cord — the neural pathways that allow areas of gray matter to communicate with one another." But the new findings link iron deposits in the gray matter to movement and thinking impairments in Multiple Sclerosis.
"If we're going to treat this disease," Dr. Bakshi reported at the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association in San Francisco. "We have to know where the damage is," he is quoted as saying in a news release. "Traditionally, we thought MS was strictly a white-matter disease. … We were able to visualize gray matter structures deep in the brain of MS patients and found some to be atrophied." He added that it was not yet clear that the "iron is the cause of the brain damage. It could be that dying brain cells leave a trail of iron behind."
That Blood Brain Barrier
So here I am, after watching Michael J. Fox participating in a commercial promoting the 2010 Olympics and in the closing ceremony, still ardently hoping that what I was advised to listen to last November really does lead to the ultimate breakthrough. Sadly, of course, even if the researchers do come up with a procedure for getting the iron out from behind the blood brain barrier, it could be too late for those who already have suffered organ damage, there will be hope for those who are tested and treated early enough.
It appears that, while we should normally be protected by this "barrier" that prohibits foreign substances from flowing through the walls of our capillaries into our brains, it is somehow defective in some people, and if iron is able to be stored behind it, the results can be tragic.
Now we wait for updates on the recent news to the effect that researchers in Italy are working on a procedure to "open the blocked drain," as it were. This would allow that iron-filled fluid to flow back into the bloodstream from where — after our internal organs have dealt with the processing of it — venesection (which is the "blood-letting" procedure used to de-iron patients with hemochromatosis) can do the same for those afflicted with Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson's.