A QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute scientist has found that ethnicity affects rates of the thyroid disorder Graves’ disease.
The study, led by Dr Don McLeod, considered 15 years of medical data from American military personnel.
Dr McLeod found that Graves’ disease in African Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders, compared with Caucasians, was almost twice as common in women and more than two-and-a-half times more common in men.
“Recognising racial differences in autoimmune thyroid disease is key to understanding why it occurs,” Dr McLeod said.
“We don’t yet know whether the differences seen are due to genetics, environmental exposures, or a combination of both. But if these differences are due to racial variations in immune system pathways, in the future we could use this information to design new treatments or prevention for autoimmune disease.
“If environmental exposures were the cause, we could educate and empower people to avoid these exposures and prevent disease.”
The thyroid gland is found in the front of the neck, below the larynx. It helps regulate our metabolism. Graves’ disease is a condition that causes an overactive thyroid, speeding up metabolism. It affects about 1% of the population.
“Graves’ disease has a significant impact on sufferers, and without treatment can be life threatening. It also causes eye disease and pregnancy complications including miscarriage and problems with fetal development,” Dr McLeod said.
The next step for researchers is to confirm that these patterns are seen in the wider population and aren’t specific to the US military.
“Finding the root causes of thyroid autoimmunity has the potential to lead to prevention of thyroid disorders, and may also lead to crucial insights into other autoimmune disease.”
The research was supported by a Cancer Council Queensland PhD scholarship.