Eating disorders are disturbing and often-heartbreaking ailments that are relatively common, mostly among younger women.
These ailments cut across socio-economic lines and across cultural borders, according to University of North Dakota physician and researcher James Mitchell. Thus we clearly know a lot about the people who are at highest risk for developing these diseases.
However, until now no one knew how these disorders occurred or what triggered them, says Mitchell, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Clinical Neuroscience and co-head of the Fargo-based Neuropsychiatric Research Institute (NRI). NRI is associated with UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS).
Mitchell, known globally for his wide-ranging and long-term study of eating disorders and obesity and for his work with bariatric surgery, says that recently published research suggests a new strategy to understand, and eventually may lead to innovative treatments for, eating disorders.
The research, led by the University of Iowa's Michael Lutter, has identified two gene mutations that appear to be associated with an increased risk of developing eating disorders. Key to developing that research was the participation of eating-disorders facilities including NRI, which has provided long-term support in the form of critical -- and anonymized--information about folks suffering from eating disorders.
"We have participated in the Psychiatric Genetics Consortium for several years," said Mitchell, who also heads the UND SMHS clinical neuroscience program. "That group is now pooling the DNA we collected with samples from other groups that have formed an international collaborative to increase power for genome-wide association studies."
Mitchell says the recently published research about the genetic links in eating disorders is "exciting and promising."
"We've known eating disorders run in families, thus we knew about heritability long before we knew about genes," said Mitchell, who with NRI colleague and fellow Chester Fritz Professor of Clinical Neuroscience Steve Wonderlich, co-wrote the eating disorders chapter of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It's the book used by clinicians globally to help diagnose psychiatric disorders.
Now, Mitchell says, there's a more scientifically accurate model that will help clinicians and researchers help their eating-disorders patients.
Bariatric surgery discovery
In related research also published recently, Mitchell and his team were part of a group of clinicians and scientists collaborating on a research papers in a series of so-called Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (LABS) studies, including Teen LABS.
"The one that is probably most notable is the main paper which will have a significant impact on bariatric surgery practice in this country because it shows that bariatric surgery patients mostly do very well three years after their surgeries."
For millions of people who face the challenges of obesity and who are considering, among other options, surgical intervention to lose weight and alleviate problems related to obesity-related health complications, the latest study clearly links this type of surgery to measurable health benefits. This research indicates that severely obese patients who underwent gastric bypass or laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding surgical procedures posted significant weight loss three years after surgery, with most of the change occurring in the first year, Mitchell noted.
Gastric bypass and laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding are types of bariatric surgery that can result in significant weight loss by bypassing a part of the intestines and restricting or limiting stomach size. The research used data from the LABS consortium, comprising 10 health facilities in different areas of the country, including the UND-linked NRI in Fargo. Mitchell was among the researchers who co-authored the main research paper that described this study.
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