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Animal. 2013 Oct;7(10):1651-8. doi: 10.1017/S1751731113001134. Epub 2013 Jun 21.

Advantages and disadvantages of the animal models v. in vitro studies in iron metabolism: a review.

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Restorative Laboratory, National Centre of Biological Products, Mayabeque 6048, Cuba.


Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. Special molecules have evolved for iron acquisition, transport and storage in soluble, nontoxic forms. Studies about the effects of iron on health are focused on iron metabolism or nutrition to prevent or treat iron deficiency and anemia. These studies are focused in two main aspects: (1) basic studies to elucidate iron metabolism and (2) nutritional studies to evaluate the efficacy of iron supplementation to prevent or treat iron deficiency and anemia. This paper reviews the advantages and disadvantages of the experimental models commonly used as well as the methods that are more used in studies related to iron. In vitro studies have used different parts of the gut. In vivo studies are done in humans and animals such as mice, rats, pigs and monkeys. Iron metabolism is a complex process that includes interactions at the systemic level. In vitro studies, despite physiological differences to humans, are useful to increase knowledge related to this essential micronutrient. Isotopic techniques are the most recommended in studies related to iron, but their high cost and required logistic, making them difficult to use. The depletion-repletion of hemoglobin is a method commonly used in animal studies. Three depletion-repletion techniques are mostly used: hemoglobin regeneration efficiency, relative biological values (RBV) and metabolic balance, which are official methods of the association of official analytical chemists. These techniques are well-validated to be used as studies related to iron and their results can be extrapolated to humans. Knowledge about the main advantages and disadvantages of the in vitro and animal models, and methods used in these studies, could increase confidence of researchers in the experimental results with less costs.

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