Dr. Maria Papaleontiou – Tailoring Treatment for Older Adults with Thyroid Disease

July 20, 2020

Maria Papaleontiou, MD, Assistant Professor in the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Diabetes, is an endocrinologist who cares for patients with general endocrinology diseases, with a special interest in thyroid diseases and thyroid cancer. While Dr. Papaleontiou enjoys treating adult patients of all ages, she is especially passionate about the treatment of endocrine disorders in older adults. In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Papaleontiou is a health services researcher where she is working to understand the role of providers and patients in the management of thyroid disease in older adults. Dr. Papaleontiou also conducts thyroid cancer outcomes research and is a member of the health services research team on the ThyCARE (Thyroid CAncer REsearch) program. 

Another one of Dr. Papaleontiou’s passions is improving patient education. She has co-authored several patient education brochures for the American Thyroid Association and is on the editorial board of two publications which provide clinical and research updates specifically tailored for patients, one of which she is the editor-in-chief.

Dr. Papaleontiou is also a member of the Rogel Cancer Center, Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation (IHPI), and Michigan Biology of Cardiovascular Aging (M-BoCA)

Behind the Scenes with Dr. Maria Papaleontiou

Dr. Maria Papaleontiou

What is your research about?

I am a health services researcher with a particular interest in understanding the role of providers and patients in the management of thyroid disease in older adults. With current NIH funding from the National Institute on Aging, as well as support from the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, I am able to study the risks of thyroid hormone overtreatment in older adults, as well as to understand the role of providers and patients in thyroid hormone use and misuse and how it relates to patient outcomes. 

Dr. Papaleontiou has written several publications on these areas of research including:

In addition to my research focusing on thyroid disease and aging, I also conduct thyroid cancer outcomes research as part of ThyCARE. I am fortunate to have several U-M mentors and collaborators with a vast and diverse expertise, including survey methodology, biostatistics, geriatrics, pharmacy, mixed methods research, and implementation science. These collaborations have allowed us to address clinically-relevant issues in the field of aging as it intersects with endocrinology, including prescribing practices and practice patterns, decision-making, and barriers to appropriate care.

How did you become interested in this area of research and what are your goals?

Before my residency, I spent a few years conducting aging research in the Division of Geriatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. During this time, I became increasingly intrigued by the aging process and its impact on quality of life. Following my fellowship, I was able to combine my passion for endocrinology and my exposure to aging research to develop a novel research niche focusing on thyroid disease management in older adults, with the ultimate goal of developing tools to tailor treatment to this growing population. 

Our hope is that our research findings will be translated into effective strategies and interventions to improve the care of older adults and reduce patient harms. Through our research, we aim to improve the health and well-being of adults as they age, while upholding our physician promise to do no harm. 

What are your clinical interests?

I care for patients with thyroid disease and thyroid cancer at the Rogel Cancer Center. I am also one of the core faculty in the geriatric endocrinology clinic at the East Ann Arbor Health and Geriatrics Center. I find forming long-term relationships with my patients and supporting them through life especially rewarding. Also, endocrinology is a fascinating and cognitive specialty which is fast-evolving and provides continuing intellectual stimulation, thus allowing for patient interactions to inform research and discovery. 

Dr. Papaleontiou discusses who's at risk for thyroid disease, signs to look for, and how to seek treatment: "Thyroid 101: Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism". 

What are your favorite parts of your job?

Caring for patients is extremely gratifying, especially when you feel like you make a difference in reducing their anxiety and improving their quality of life. In addition to patient care, I enjoy the innovation and resourcefulness associated with research that can impact health in a real-world setting. Finally, I am enthusiastic about teaching and I always seek opportunities to teach and mentor students, residents, and fellows. I wholeheartedly believe that mentorship leads to the exchange of knowledge and shared experiences that allow for professional growth.

You have been involved in several patient education efforts in your field. Why is this important to you?

Yes, I have a particular interest in improving patient education in my specialty. I co-authored several patient education brochures for the American Thyroid Association’s website, including one on what to expect during a fine-needle aspiration of a thyroid nodule and a patient-oriented piece on Graves’ disease. 

I serve on the editorial board of Clinical Thyroidology® for the Public, a monthly publication from the American Thyroid Association, which is geared to providing patients with summaries of recent selected research,and I serve as the Editor-In-Chief for the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists Empower Magazine, a patient education publication. In these publications, clinical updates and recent research are presented in lay language to allow their rapid dissemination to the widest possible audience. 

I am also committed to improving quality patient education through research. These experiences will inform research projects on identifying patient barriers to thyroid disease/cancer care and on designing interventions that can improve thyroid patients’ knowledge, health behavior, and health status.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

Even though it is definitely challenging with a 6-year-old and 3-year-old twins at home, I believe that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for one’s physical and mental well-being. I couldn’t do it without the support of my husband and extended family, who I value with all my heart. I do my best to prioritize my time and set deadlines for myself, but be realistic. And I always try to plot some personal time, whether it is spent going for a run, trying out a new baking recipe, or reading a good book.

What five words best describe you?

Mom, wife, physician-scientist, team player, and reliable. 

More about Dr. Papaleontiou… 

You can find all of her publications and read more about her research at Michigan Research Experts

You can keep up with what she's doing on twitter @MariaPapaleont1.