Australian researchers have helped unlock the secrets of anorexia, finding that genetics play a huge role in contributing to the eating disorder.
Scientists from QIMR Berghofer are part of an international team that has identified the first eight genes associated with anorexia nervosa.
Almost 3000 Australians and New Zealanders living with the disorder contributed their DNA for the study, which delved into almost 17,000 cases worldwide.
The results of the study were published on Tuesday in the Nature Genetics journal.
The head of the QIMR Berghofer’s Genetic Epidemiology laboratory, Professor Nicholas Martin, said it was a huge step towards understanding the disorder.
“By showing the role genetics plays in anorexia nervosa we should be able to remove any remaining stigma associated with the condition for patients and their families – especially parents,” he said.
The study also helped establish the role metabolism plays in the illness, with researchers saying this would help reshape the sort of treatment given to patients.
The co-ordinator of QIMR Berghofer’s mental health program, Professor Sarah Medland, said psychiatric disorders were also closely linked to anorexia.
“The study found the genetic basis of anorexia nervosa overlapped with other psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, and this underscores the importance of taking a broad clinical focus in working with individuals who experience an eating disorder” she said.
British eating disorder charity Beat has described the findings as ground-breaking.
“This is groundbreaking research that significantly increases our understanding of the genetic origins of this serious illness,” chief executive Andrew Radford told the BBC.
“We strongly encourage researchers to examine the results of this study and consider how it can contribute to the development of new treatments so we can end the pain and suffering of eating disorders.”
Scientists want to expand the study, and are calling for more people with the disorder to provide a saliva sample from which DNA can be extracted.