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Getting to the Root Causes of Eating Disorders

Even though eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders affect more than 30 million Americans, their biological causes are still poorly understood. Shedding light on those neurobiological roots – and the pathways for future treatments – is the mission of the first and only national brain bank dedicated to eating disorders, in development at McLean Hospital.

The National Eating Disorders Brain Bank is a project of the Foundation for Research and Education in Eating Disorders (FREED) and the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (HBTRC) at McLean. It will provide a focused collection of brain and tissue samples to enable investigators at top medical and research institutions to examine the molecular and cellular level brain changes that occur in patients with eating disorders, as well as the accompanying impact of altered nutrition on the brain.

Eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders impact more than 30 million Americans.

Eating disorders are complex conditions that profoundly impact patients and families – and are increasingly seen as public health crises due to high associated rates of comorbid conditions, suicide, and death. Yet treatment options remain scarce; the FDA has specifically approved only one drug to treat binge eating disorders, and none for the other eating disorders. The National Eating Disorders Brain Bank will be invaluable to the growing research community dedicated to filling this treatment gap with innovation.

The eating disorders-dedicated bank joins the larger HBTRC, established in 1978 as a centralized resource for the collection and dissemination of human brain specimens for brain research. Today it is internationally renowned for its focused brain collections dedicated to neurological and psychiatric brain disorders.

“We have long recognized the need to develop similar resources to support research into eating disorders, and are delighted to establish this partnership with FREED to launch this program,” says Sabina Berretta, MD, Scientific Director of the HBTRC.

Banner image: Tina Zheng, Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, McLean Hospital