Objective.

To test the efficacy and safety of combining intravenous iron in amounts approximating the in utero iron accretion rate and the postnatal iron loss with erythropoietin (EPO) in very low birth weight (VLBW) infants.

Methods.

A prospective, controlled, randomized, unmasked trial lasting 21 days was performed in 29 clinically stable VLBW infants <31 weeks' gestation and <1300 g birth weight not treated with red blood cell transfusions during the study period. Mean (± standard error of the mean) age at study entry was 23 ± 2.9 days. After a 3-day run-in baseline period in which all participants received oral supplements of 9 mg/kg/day of iron polymaltose complex (IPC), participants were randomized to receive 18 days of treatment with: 1) oral IPC alone (oral iron group); 2) 300 U of recombinant human EPO (r-HuEPO) kg/day and daily oral IPC (EPO + oral iron group); 3) 2 mg/kg/day of intravenous iron sucrose, r-HuEPO, and oral iron (intravenous iron + EPO group). To assess efficacy of the 3 treatments, serial blood samples were analyzed for hemoglobin (Hb), hematocrit (Hct), reticulocyte count, red blood cell indices and plasma levels of transferrin, transferrin receptor (TfR), ferritin, and iron. Oxidant injury was assessed before and after treatment by plasma and urine levels of malondialdehyde (MDA) ando-tyrosine.

Results.

At the end of treatment, Hb, Hct, reticulocyte count, and plasma TfR were markedly higher in both of the EPO-treated groups, compared with the oral iron group. At study exit a trend toward increasing Hb and Hct levels and significantly higher reticulocyte counts were observed in the intravenous iron + EPO group, compared with the EPO + oral iron group. During treatment, plasma ferritin levels increased significantly in the intravenous iron + EPO group and decreased significantly in the other 2 groups. By the end of treatment, ferritin levels were significantly higher in the intravenous iron + EPO group compared with the other 2 groups. Although plasma and urine MDA or o-tyrosine did not differ among the 3 groups, plasma MDA was significantly greater in the subgroup of intravenous iron + EPO participants sampled at the end of the 2-hour parenteral iron infusion, compared with values observed immediately before and after parenteral iron-dosing.

Conclusions.

In stable VLBW infants receiving EPO treatment, parenteral supplementation with 2 mg/kg/day of iron sucrose results in a small, but significant, augmentation of erythropoiesis beyond that of r-HuEPO and enteral iron alone. However, to reduce the potential adverse effects of parenteral iron/kg/day on increasing plasma ferritin levels and on causing oxidative injury, we suggest that the parenteral iron dose used should be reduced and/or the time of infusion extended to maintain a serum iron concentration below the total iron-binding capacity.

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