Iron and Leukemia: New Insights for Future Treatments

J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2019 Sep 13;38(1):406. doi: 10.1186/s13046-019-1397-3.


Iron, an indispensable element for life, is involved in all kinds of important physiological activities. Iron promotes cell growth and proliferation, but it also causes oxidative stress damage. The body has a strict regulation mechanism of iron metabolism due to its potential toxicity. As a cancer of the bone marrow and blood cells, leukemia threatens human health seriously. Current studies suggest that dysregulation of iron metabolism and subsequent accumulation of excess iron are closely associated with the occurrence and progress of leukemia. Specifically, excess iron promotes the development of leukemia due to the pro-oxidative nature of iron and its damaging effects on DNA. On the other hand, leukemia cells acquire large amounts of iron to maintain rapid growth and proliferation. Therefore, targeting iron metabolism may provide new insights for approaches to the treatment of leukemia. This review summarizes physiologic iron metabolism, alternations of iron metabolism in leukemia and therapeutic opportunities of targeting the altered iron metabolism in leukemia, with a focus on acute leukemia.

Keywords: Ferroptosis; Iron; Iron-based nanoparticles; Leukemia; Reactive oxygen species.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Management
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Drug Carriers
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Humans
  • Iron / chemistry
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Leukemia / etiology*
  • Leukemia / metabolism*
  • Leukemia / therapy
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / drug effects
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Oxidation-Reduction / drug effects
  • Oxidative Stress


  • Drug Carriers
  • Iron