PITTSBURGH, February 17, 1998 — Researchers at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic are leading an international effort to locate the genes responsible for the eating disorder bulimia nervosa. Walter Kaye, M.D., professor of psychiatry and director of the Eating Disorders Module, is principal investigator of the multi-center study that may help solve the mystery of why some people seem to be predisposed to the disease and why it may run in families.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating, the consumption of large amounts of food in a short time, followed by purging, either by vomiting or using laxatives. It frequently causes serious medical complications and psychological conditions. Unlike anorexia nervosa, in which patients lose much of their body weight, people with bulimia usually maintain normal weight. Both conditions commonly begin in adolescence and affect more women than men.
"The amount of evidence that eating disorders have a biological basis has been growing steadily," commented Dr. Kaye. "By locating the gene or genes that contribute to eating disturbances or excessive concerns about body shape and size, we may be able to provide preventive counseling for those at risk and help identify new treatments," said Dr. Kaye.
Research sites in four U.S. cities -- Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles -- and in Canada, Germany and Italy will recruit 400 women or men with bulimia nervosa who also have a biological relative with similar eating concerns or problems. These relative pairs will provide blood samples for genetic analysis and will be interviewed about their disorder. Because these procedures can be performed where a patient lives, no traveling is required.
According to Dr. Kaye, comparing the genes from this large group of relatives may identify the gene or genes underlying the disorder.
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For more information about psychiatry or to learn about current research studies, visit the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic Web site.