Erythropoietin is a protein and its amino acid sequence was first mapped out in 1983. By 1985, human erythropoietin was being manufactured commercially using recombinant DNA technology and used for the treatment of anemia (low red blood cell count) in human dialysis and cancer patients. Before long, some synthetic changes improving upon the natural hormone were being added. Binding of erythopoietin with sugars (called “glycosylation”) slows the clearance of erythropoietin from the body thus allowing the hormone to last longer. Glycosylated erythropoietin comes in 3 forms: “alpha” (the most commonly used type in veterinary medicine), “beta” (of similar clinical efficacy to alpha), and Darbepoetin (which is particularly heavily glycosylated and lasts the longest).
Erythropoietin is the hormone responsible for inducing red blood cell production by the body’s bone marrow. Erythropoietin is primarily produced by the kidney when a drop in blood oxygen level is perceived, though 10-15% of the total erythropoietin produced comes from the liver. A dose of erythropoietin lasts about a day but its effect is seen approximately 5 days later when the red cell proliferation it has induced is mature enough for release into the circulation.