Toronto (March 5, 2003) - Toronto General Hospital researchers have been selected as the only Canadian hospital in the largest genetic study of anorexia nervosa ever conducted.

The National Institute of Mental Health-funded study is a five-year, $10 million (US) project, led by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. It brings together 11 groups of researchers from North America and Europe (10 clinical centres and one to analyze data) to find regions of the human genome that contain genes influencing the risk for anorexia. To find these regions, the researchers will recruit families with two or more members, mainly siblings, who have or had anorexia nervosa, and analyze DNA from the participants.

Dr. Allan S. Kaplan, the Loretta Anne Rogers Chair in Eating Disorders, Head of Eating Disorders Program at Toronto General Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry at University of Toronto, and Dr. Blake Woodside, Director of the Inpatient Eating Disorders Program at Toronto General Hospital and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto will lead the Canadian-based component of the research. "This research project could be an important turning point in our understanding of the underlying genetic vulnerabilities in anorexia nervosa. The study will identify genes that contribute to anorexia nervosa, ultimately improving our ability to detect, prevent and treat this illness," said Dr. Kaplan.

More studies of this kind are needed because eating disorders are complex diseases with both genetic and environmental components. This research will build on recent genetic studies supported by the Price Foundation, a private, European-based foundation. Price Foundation studies have already pointed to four regions of the genome to look for genes affecting susceptibility to anorexia.

As with other diseases such as Alzheimer's and type 2 diabetes, large samples are needed to identify linkage regions and define the genes contributing liability. To provide this large sample, the study will involve 400 families in total, and the Toronto General component of the study will involve 40 families. Dr. Kaplan pointed out the success of the study depends on engaging affected relatives to participate. The criteria—two family members who both have or had anorexia nervosa—are very stringent, but he hopes that families affected by anorexia will want to be a part of this study. "Affected relatives who participate in the study have a unique opportunity to participate in groundbreaking research. Our team will focus on communicating with them each step of the way, to help families understand the importance of their contribution."

Anorexia nervosa is a serious and potentially lethal illness, and has one of the highest death rates of any psychiatric illness. The eating disorder is characterized by the relentless pursuit of thinness, emaciation, and an obsessive fear of gaining weight. It commonly begins during adolescence in girls and it runs in families. Risk of the disease has been linked to traits including perfectionism, anxiety, and obsessionality; understanding how genes contribute will provide a more comprehensive understanding of anorexia nervosa and how it should be treated.

Among the leaders of the academic centres involved in this study are Dr. Kaye and Maria LaVia, M.D., at the University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Berrettini, University of Pennsylvania; Katherine A. Halmi, M.D., Cornell University; Michael Strober PhD, UCLA; Jim Mitchell MD, University of North Dakota; Manfred M. Fichter, M.D., Roseneck Hospital affiliated with the University of Munich (Germany); and Ian Jones, M.D., Nick Craddock, M.D., and David Robertson, M.D., University of Birmingham (England).

The Eating Disorders Program at Toronto General Hospital is one of the largest of its kind in the world. In 1990, it received the Gold Award from the American Psychiatric Association as the best clinical program in North America. This multidisciplinary treatment program, in combination with research and education, makes it one of the most highly sought after comprehensive treatment facilities for patients, training grounds for caregivers, and a leader in spearheading innovative research from the lab bench to the patient bedside.

About Toronto General Hospital

Toronto General Hospital is a partner in University Health Network, along with Toronto Western and Princess Margaret Hospitals. The scope of research and complexity of cases at Toronto General Hospital has made it a national and international source for discovery, education and patient care. It has one of the largest hospital-based research programs in Canada, with major research projects in cardiology, transplantation, surgical innovation, infectious diseases, and genomic medicine. Toronto General Hospital is a teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto.

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