Bulik leads multinational anorexia genetics project

March 27, 2014

Cynthia Bulik, PhD, professor of nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders in the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, has been named lead investigator of the largest and most rigorous genetic initiative in eating disorders ever undertaken.

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Dr. Cynthia Bulik (center) poses with (left to right) Chris Hilliard, Dr. Laura Thornton, Lauren Metzger and Dr. Jessica Baker, of UNC’s ANGI team.

The Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI) will collect clinical information and blood samples from more than 8,000 females and males who have had anorexia nervosa at any point in their lives and those without an eating disorder in an effort to detect genes that contribute to this potentially life-threatening illness.

“Genome-wide association studies have been enormously successful in identifying genes that contribute to a range of medical and psychiatric conditions,” Bulik said. “These discoveries have opened up new avenues of understanding of both cause and cure. Once we identify genetic associations in ANGI, we will use the information to develop better strategies to detect, treat and prevent anorexia nervosa. If our project is successful, it will change the life course of millions of individuals with anorexia and their families.”

Each person’s complete set of DNA, or genome, will be purified from a blood sample, placed on tiny chips and scanned on automated laboratory machines. The machines quickly survey each participant’s genome for strategically selected markers of genetic variation, which are called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. If certain genetic variations are found to be significantly more frequent in people with anorexia compared with people without anorexia, the variations are said to be “associated” with the disease. The associated genetic variations can serve as powerful pointers to the region of the human genome where the disease-causing problem resides.

Bulik, who directs the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, is the lead principal investigator for ANGI, which also includes researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden; the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia; and Aarhus University in Aarhus, Denmark.

Joining Bulik at UNC are Patrick Sullivan, MD, a professor in the departments of genetics and psychiatry and director of UNC’s Center for Psychiatric Genomics, and Laura Thornton, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry.

ANGI was established in 2013 by the Klarman Family Foundation, a private, Boston-based foundation.

ANGI investigators from the Karolinska Institutet are Mikael Landén, MD, PhD; Andreas Birgegård, PhD; Claes Norring, PhD; and Paul Lichtenstein, PhD.

ANGI investigators from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research are Nicholas Martin, PhD; Grant Montgomery, PhD; and Tracey Wade, PhD (Flinders University).

The ANGI investigator at Aarhus University is Preben Bo Mortensen, MD, PhD.

Those interested in participating in ANGI or seeking additional information may visit www.unceatingdisorders.org/angi or the ANGI Facebook page, or may call 919-966-3065.

A video interview with Bulik is available online.


 
Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu.