Eye color may indicate risk for serious skin conditions

Erika Matich
EurekAlert

University of Colorado School of Medicine leads multi-center study

DENVER (May 6, 2012) – Eye color may be an indicator of whether a person is high-risk for certain serious skin conditions. A study, led by the University of Colorado School of Medicine, shows people with blue eyes are less likely to have vitiligo. It then follows, according to scientists, that people with brown eyes may be less likely to have melanoma. Vitiligo is an autoimmune skin disease in which pigment loss results in irregular white patches of skin and hair. Melanoma is the most dangerous kind of skin cancer.

The study is published online by the journal Nature Genetics. It looked at almost 3,000 people with vitiligo of Non-Hispanic European ancestry, identifying 13 new genes that predispose to vitiligo. Among the vitiligo patients, approximately 27 percent had blue/gray eyes, 43 percent had tan or brown eyes and 30 percent had green or hazel eyes, which is significantly different from the normal distribution of eye color where approximately 52 percent of Americans of Non-Hispanic European ancestry have blue/gray eyes, 22 percent have green/hazel eyes, and 27 percent have tan or brown eyes.

Richard Spritz, MD, is director of the Human Medical Genetics and Genomics Program at the CU School of Medicine, the coordinating center for the research. Spritz said the study primarily looked at vitiligo but also has implications for melanoma.

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