By Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, Sweden/USA
Several years ago in Porto at the meeting of the Eating Disorders Research Society, in a moment of extreme optimism, I challenged the eating disorders field to catch up to our collaborators in other areas of psychiatric genomics and collect 25,000 DNA samples from individuals with anorexia nervosa by 2016. Little did I know that World Eating Disorders Day was going to happen in 2016 as well! I would call that an auspicious coincidence.
Since that talk in Portugal, researchers and clinicians around the world have united through projects such as the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI) which is taking part in Australia with assistance from New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden, and the United States; Charlotte’s Helix in the UK; plus several smaller projects in Germany, Japan, Korea, and many other countries to contribute to meeting the lofty goal of AN25K.
Being part of this global partnership has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Individuals are living with or have experienced anorexia nervosa in the past, their family members and friends, clinicians, and researchers have all mustered their energy to help us reach our ambitious goal.
Will we do it?
I have hope that we will be able to get there with vigorous participation in the home stretch. The links above will take you to the specific websites in the participating countries. My only regret is that we have not been able to truly make participation global given the complexity of ethical permissions and sample collection and shipping. Believe me, we have tried! People from all over the world have inquired about being part of AN25K.
Sample collection is just the first step. Next we have to genotype all of the samples (actually get a read out of the DNA), compare it to individuals who have never had eating disorders from the same countries, and then interpret the results. We will then be able to determine which genes influence risk for anorexia nervosa and which genes are shared between anorexia nervosa and other conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, autism, and even other health conditions such as autoimmune illnesses.
Will we stop here?
Absolutely not! AN25K was just the first step! Many of the other psychiatric disorders have sample sizes over 50,000! Given that we expect there to be hundreds of genes involved with these illnesses, large sample sizes are required to identify them. Plus, anorexia nervosa was just the first step…on to bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder!
About Prof. Bulik
Clinical psychologist Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D., FAED is the Founding Director of the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Professor of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. She is the lead principal investigator of the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI). Dr. Bulik has research collaborations in over twenty countries and has published more than 500 papers and chapters on eating disorders. She is author of seven books including Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop, The Woman in the Mirror, and Midlife Eating Disorders: Your Journey to Recovery, and Binge Control: A Compact Recovery Guide. She is passionate about advancing the science of eating disorders and translating science for the public. Read more at http://cynthiabulik.com.
Join Prof. Bulik in supporting World Eating Disorders Action Day. Be sure to follow along on Twitter @WorldEDDay and hashtag #WeDoAct, #WorldEDActionDay, @WorldEatingDisordersAction on Instagram and World Eating Disorders Action Day on Facebook.