(04/29/14) - Something as simple as a blood test could be the key to stopping anorexia and saving countless lives. There is a genetic link to the eating disorder. Now scientists want to use this knowledge to come up with something as simple as a blood test, that could help stop anorexia and 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 the time she turned 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."
When she was just 24, her weight hit its lowest point. Her health and heart began to fail. Then, she says, she lost her hair, "probably over a third of it fell out."
That's when she finally got the help she needed. Dr. Cynthia Bulik says not everyone with anorexia is so lucky, "it has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder."
She adds that it can eventually cause both the body and mind to fail, "people with anorexia are over 50 times more likely to commit suicide than their peers who don't have an eating disorder."
Studies show genes and environment each play a 50-50 role in who develops Anorexia. Having a first degree relative with the disorder, makes someone eleven times more likely to develop it themselves.
"One of the things that I like to say is that genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger," which is why Dr. Bulik is leading the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative, known as ANGI . Participants complete an online questionnaire and mail in small blood samples for DNA. The goal is to identify genes responsible for Anorexia Nervosa and eventually to develop new treatments.
"My fantasy," Bulik says, "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."
It's a fantasy for Allison as well, "I would love for people to know more about it."
The goal of the study is to gather 8,000 samples by 2015. If you are interested in participating in ANGI, email ANGI@UNC.edu or call 919-966-3065.