Global effort to identify genes that contribute to eating disorders

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by KING 5 HealthLink

KING5.com

Posted on April 24, 2014 at 6:04 PM

Allison Blue’s struggle with anorexia began at 14. By 16, she dropped 30 pounds.

“Even when I was told if I kept going down that path, I didn’t really have that much longer to live. It really didn’t matter to me,” blue said.

At age 24, her weight hit its lowest point at 90 lbs. Her heart began to fail. Then, she lost her hair.

“Probably over a third of it fell out,” said Blue.

Only then did she get the help she needed. Dr. Cynthia Bulik with the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders said not everyone with anorexia is so lucky.

“It has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder,” said Dr. Bulik. “People with anorexia are over 50 times more likely to commit suicide than their peers who don’t have an eating disorder.”

Genes and environment each play a 50-50 role. But first degree relatives are 11 times more likely to develop it.

Dr. Bulik said, “One of the things that I like to say is that genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.”

That is why Dr. Bulik is leading the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative, known as ANGI. Participants complete an online questionnaire and mail in small blood samples.

The goal: to identify the genes responsible and eventually develop new treatments.

Dr. Bulik said, “My fantasy is that if we could get everybody in the country who’s ever had anorexia nervosa to participate in ANGI, we could crack this nut.”

The goal of the study is to gather 8,000 samples by 2015.

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