Hawaii Kaiser
members aid study
of iron overload

About 200 more volunteers are
needed for the five-year study

By Helen Altonn

Volunteering for a study of iron overload in the body may have prolonged his life, says Frank Glazier, instructor and assistant director of the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Hickam Air Force Base.

"I can't say this thing actually saved my life, but it probably lengthened it considerably," said Glazier, 60.

Six sites in the United States and Canada, including Kaiser's Centers for Health Research in Hawaii and Portland, Ore., are conducting a five-year study of hemochromatosis, a disorder that occurs when the small intestine absorbs too much iron.

Glazier is one of a "modest number" of Kaiser participants referred for treatment because of too much iron, said Dr. Thomas Vogt, director of the Kaiser health research center here.

About 6,300 Kaiser members have volunteered for the study in Hawaii and about 200 more are needed, Vogt said.

Thursday is the deadline to apply. Interested Kaiser patients are asked to call Aileen Uchida, project coordinator, at 432-4777.

About 100,000 people are expected to participate in the $35 million study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Modest levels of high iron are fairly common, Vogt said. Excessive iron deposits in the organs and joints can lead to chronic conditions such as fatigue, arthritis, impotence, diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver. Risks of dying from liver and heart disease are increased.

Vogt said it's an important issue for Hawaii residents because little is known about the disease rates among native Hawaiians, Asians and Pacific Islanders. He said preliminary analyses indicate some ethnic differences.

"Whether that's normal or reflects differences in diet or genes, we don't know," he said.

Vogt said volunteers are drawn from the general population at the other sites, in California; Alabama; Washington, D.C.; and Ontario, Canada. However, the Kaiser centers were asked to take only Kaiser members so the data could be related to their hospital records, he said.

Glazier said he volunteered after receiving a letter from Kaiser about the study more than a year ago.

"Probably three months later ... they called and said, 'You have significant iron overload; we'd like to see you,'" he said.

He said he was told his condition was genetic. He was referred to a doctor, who drew a pint for his blood every week for 14 weeks to reduce the iron level to normal range.

He will be retested late next month and his blood will be drawn on a regular basis to maintain a normal iron level, he said.

Glazier said no one ever told him there was a genetic iron problem in his family, but he learned from his sister-in-law that his brother was treated for the disorder before he died of a heart condition at age 57. He also lost a sister to liver cancer, he said.

"This confirms it's a genetic-based thing," he said. "I know I'm awfully happy it was discovered ... because they found it before any cirrhosis of the liver."

Glazier said his wife, Lee Ellen, also decided to enter the study. They aren't worried about genetic effects on their two children, who are adopted, but have suggested his brother's children be tested for the disorder, he said.

Most volunteers only need to fill out a short questionnaire and give a blood sample at one of the Kaiser clinics, Vogt said.

People with either high iron or genes associated with high iron, even if they don't have high iron, are invited back for an examination.

Kaiser Center for Health Research
Kaiser Permanente Hawaii

E-mail to City Desk


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