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Blood. 2009 Nov 5;114(19):4021-6. doi: 10.1182/blood-2009-06-225615. Epub 2009 Sep 2.

Pancreatic iron loading predicts cardiac iron loading in thalassemia major.

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  • 1Division of Cardiology, Department of Pediatrics, Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA.


Diabetes mellitus and cardiomyopathy are common in chronically transfused thalassemia major patients, occurring in the second and third decades of life. We postulated that pancreatic iron deposition would precede cardiac iron loading, representing an environment favorable for extrahepatic iron deposition. To test this hypothesis, we examined pancreatic and cardiac iron in 131 thalassemia major patients over a 4-year period. Cardiac iron (R2* > 50 Hz) was detected in 37.7% of patients and pancreatic iron (R2* > 28 Hz) in 80.4% of patients. Pancreatic and cardiac R2* were correlated (r(2) = 0.52), with significant pancreatic iron occurring nearly a decade earlier than cardiac iron. A pancreatic R2* less than 100 Hz was a powerful negative predictor of cardiac iron, and pancreatic R2* more than 100 Hz had a positive predictive value of more than 60%. In serial analysis, changes in cardiac iron were correlated with changes in pancreatic iron (r(2) = 0.33, P < .001), but not liver iron (r(2) = 0.025, P = .25). As a result, pancreatic R2* measurements offer important early recognition of physiologic conditions suitable for future cardiac iron deposition and complementary information to liver and cardiac iron during chelation therapy. Staging abdominal and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging examinations could significantly reduce costs, magnet time, and need for sedation in young patients.

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