Meet the Endocrinologist: Petros Perros, thyroid disease expert

Dr Petros Perros is Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer at Newcastle University, and a consultant in endocrinology at Newcastle Hospitals. His clinical and research interests focus on the study of thyroid disease, and he is a convenor of the Society’s Thyroid Network.

What inspired you into medicine and why did you focus on thyroid disease?

I got inspired into medicine through observing the impact of successful treatments on people’s lives and the misery brought onto those who are incurable. Appreciating that science was the key to solving those problems was my main motivator to pursue a career in medicine.

As a student, I was attracted by the relevance of endocrinology in every system and organ, and the beauty and elegance that was revealed from studying it. The frequency of thyroid conditions and the interests of my mentors contributed towards my focusing in this area. However, I can also recall how impressed I was when I read about the discovery of the therapeutic role of radioiodine in hyperthyroidism and thyroid cancer: a perfect marriage of physics and clinical medicine leading to the first “magic bullet” treatment in medicine.

Can you tell us a little about your work?

Graves’ orbitopathy (GO), also known as thyroid eye disease (TED), has been the focus of my clinical and academic interests. This has enabled me to work closely with colleagues in other disciplines, which has been immensely rewarding.

There are rapid advances in understanding the pathophysiology of GO, and a plethora of biologics are already available and beginning to be used with impressive results. Besides the high tech available, the realisation that low cost, conventional interventions can influence the course of this disease has also made the topic of implementation very interesting and challenging. Now is a fascinating time for people working in this area.

What do you think have been the most impactful advances in thyroid clinical practice and research?

For thyroid research, one of the most relevant outcomes of the Human Genome Atlas has been the demonstration that the commonest thyroid cancer (papillary) has one of the simplest genetic mutational repertoires, so the scope for therapeutic interventions to silence driver mutations is a realistic expectation. I anticipate that prognostic evaluations and novel thyroid cancer treatments will reach the clinical arena in the next decade as a direct result of this.

What will be the next breakthrough for treatment or diagnosis of thyroid conditions?

In my opinion, targeted therapies in advanced thyroid cancer are at the top of the list. Immunotherapies for autoimmune thyroid disease are also emerging. In basic research, we can expect to learn more about the application of regenerative medicine in thyroidology, and we will hear a lot more about the role of thyroid hormones in dementia.

What are the biggest challenges faced by your clinical specialty?

We need to reverse the tide of unnecessary investigations and treatments relating to endocrinology, as this has an enormous negative impact on patient care and wastes large amounts of resources. Another challenge is attracting the brightest doctors and scientists to our discipline, and strengthening the links between endocrinology as a clinical specialty and as a scientific area.

Are there any controversies in your practice area?

Some decades ago, we thought that we had solved the problem of thyroid hormone replacement. Yet, some patients remain dissatisfied, seek alternatives, and have recently launched a war against “conventional” endocrinologists. Unfortunately this is exacerbated by self-appointed experts from the dark alleys of alternative medicine, who exploit human suffering and desperation. However, on the bright side of things, this controversy has raised some valid research questions that are answerable by scientific investigation, and the new knowledge gained from it will help resolve some of these issues.

What do you enjoy about being a Network convenor?

I particularly enjoy the interaction with colleagues, especially the young ones. Endocrine networks have a great potential for bringing individuals with similar interests together and promoting research in endocrinology.

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists?

If you find endocrinology intriguing, delve into it and have a taste. Don’t be put off if it seems too complicated – it only means there is more to discover. Endocrinology is a great specialty full of surprises and rewards.

Find out more about the Society’s Endocrine Networks, and how they can provide a platform for knowledge exchange in your area of focus.

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