Erythropoietin is a glycoprotein. It acts on the bone marrow to increase the production of red blood cells. Stimuli such as bleeding or moving to high altitudes (where oxygen is scarcer) trigger the release of EPO.
People with failing kidneys can be kept alive by dialysis. But dialysis only cleanses the blood of wastes. Without a source of EPO, these patients suffer from anemia. Now, thanks to recombinant DNA technology, recombinant human EPO is available to treat these patients.
Some other uses for recombinant EPO:
- Some of the drugs used to treat AIDS, zidovudine (AZT) for example, cause anemia as a side effect. Recombinant EPO helps AIDS patients cope with this one of the many problems that the disease creates.
- Recombinant EPO improves the anemia that is such a frequent side effect of cancer chemotherapy.
- Severe blood loss in Jehovah's Witnesses, whose religion forbids them to receive blood transfusions, can also be helped with recombinant EPO.