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Reported April 29, 2014

Decoding Anorexia: The Gene Search

RALEIGH, N.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- From decades of research, we know genes influence a person’s risk for anorexia. Now, there’s a global effort to identify those genes that cause eating disorders; one that could save countless lives.

Allison blue doesn’t keep many photos from her teenage years—but she will tell you about her struggle with anorexia. It 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,” Allison Blue told Ivanhoe.

At age 24, at just five-foot-five, her weight hit its lowest point.  She weighed 90 pounds.

Her health and heart began to fail. Then she lost her hair.

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

That’s when she finally got the help she needed. Dr. Cynthia Bulik says not everyone with anorexia is so lucky.

“It has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder,” Cynthia Bulik, PhD, Director, UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, told Ivanhoe.

“People with anorexia are over 50 times more likely to commit suicide than their peers who don’t have an eating disorder,” Dr. Bulik said.

Studies show genes and environment each play a 50/50 role in who develops it. But first degree relatives of are eleven times more likely to.

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

That's why Dr. Bulik is leading the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative—known as ANGI . Participants complete an online questionnaire and mail in small blood samples for DNA. The goal is to identify genes responsible for anorexia nervosa and eventually to develop new treatments.

“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,” Dr. Bulik said.

A fantasy Blue would like to see come true as well.

“I would love for people to know more about it,” Blue said.

The goal of the study is to gather 8,000 samples by 2015. If you are interested in participating in ANGI, please email angi@unc.edu or call 919-966-3065.

For additional research on this article, click here.

Sign up for a free weekly e-mail on Medical Breakthroughs called First to Know by clicking here.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Emily Farr at efarr@ivanhoe.com.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Cynthia Bulik, PhD
Director
UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders
angi@unc.edu

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