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Dr Robson from the MRC Weatherall Instititute of Molecular Medicine explains how a genetic mutation leads to haemochromatosis, where people have too much iron.

Photo of massed human red blood cells © Wellcome Collection
Red blood cells. Photo credit Annie Cavanagh

Dr Robson's contribution appears as part of the BBC radio 4 'In their element'  radio series, exploring key elements from the periodic table.

Dr Robson’s interview features in the episode on iron, and her explanation of haemachromatosis is particularly personal to presenter Dr Andrew Pontzen: this health conditions runs in his family, and his mother is affected by it.

Excessively high levels iron has a number of effects, including an increased risk of liver cancer, and Dr Robson highlights that the since the body cannot actually excrete iron, donating blood can therefore be a simple and successful treatment for haemochromotosis  (if there are no other issues with the donor’s health).

Dr Robson also explains how only about 10-20% of the people carrying two copies of the mutation linked to haemochromatosis actually go on to develop the condition, with the percentage even lower for women: the process of having regular monthly periods and carrying children effectively ‘mops up’ some of the excess iron, and women therefore only tend to develop the condition after menopause.

Hear the programme on BBC iPlayer, and find out about our research on tackling iron imbalances in the body.