Anorexia: Decoding the gene search

April 12, 2014

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, and it 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,'' Blue said.

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

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

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

That's why Dr.Bulikis leading the anorexia nervosa genetics initiative — known as ANGI (angie). Participants complete an online questionnaire and mail in small blood samples for d-n-a. 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,'' Bulik said.

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

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