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FREED and McLean Hospital Launch the National Eating Disorders Brain Bank

Nation’s first brain collection to help determine causes and impact of eating disorders and advance treatment approaches

February 27, 2018 Print

Natalie Cohen, Walden Behavioral Care, LLC

Waltham, MA - The Foundation for Research and Education in Eating Disorders (FREED) and the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (HBTRC) at McLean Hospital today announced the establishment of the first and only national brain bank dedicated to research in eating disorders.

The National Eating Disorders Brain Bank is a resource to the community to help advance studies to find the causes of eating disorders which, in turn, will drive breakthroughs in the search for treatments that are desperately lacking for these neuropsychiatric illnesses. The brain bank will also provide researchers with the opportunity to examine the impact of altered nutrition on the brain.

Staff of FREED and McLean Hospital
Staff of McLean Hospital and FREED examining tissue collections at McLean’s Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center

More than 30 million Americans are impacted by eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. These complex conditions can have a profoundly negative impact on those who are affected as well as their families. They are increasingly being recognized as public health concerns. “Eating disorders are associated with the highest rates of health problems, death, and suicide among all mental illnesses, but it remains unclear as to what causes these conditions and who are at risk,” notes Dr. Kevin St. P. McNaught, executive director of FREED. “The brain bank will allow researchers to explore the central nervous system to gain a better understanding of the biology of eating disorders.”

“Currently, only one drug is specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat individuals with binge eating disorder, and none are FDA-approved for the other eating disorders diagnoses,” said Dr. Stuart Koman, co-founder of FREED and chief executive officer of Walden Behavioral Care, a full system of specialized care for individuals and families impacted by all types of eating disorders. “I expect that the national brain bank will help to evaluate and identify structural brain tissue changes and other underlying mechanisms that can be targeted to develop much needed treatments for the millions of people impacted by eating disorders.”

The HBTRC is internationally renowned as a brain tissue repository for neurological and psychiatric brain disorders, including several focused brain collections. “We have long recognized the need to develop similar resources to support research into eating disorders, and are delighted to establish this partnership with FREED to launch this program,” said Dr. Sabina Berretta, scientific director of the HBTRC. Dr. Wilson Woo, medical director of the HBTRC, added, “The National Eating Disorders Brain Collection will represent an invaluable asset to a growing research community focused on eating disorders.”

The national brain bank is in its early developmental stage and in the months and years ahead will drive innovations as have occurred in other neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders. “This incredible resource is a vital priority for the eating disorders community and will require broad support to help alleviate the suffering that millions of children, adolescents, and adults with these conditions experience,” said William Mosakowski, chief executive officer of Public Partnerships, LLC and a founding sponsor of FREED and the brain bank program.

The Foundation for Research and Education in Eating Disorders (FREED), previously known as the Walden Center for Education and Research (WCER), was established in 2012 as a nonprofit, 501 (c)(3) organization to help lead the fight against eating disorders. The mission of FREED is to help determine the causes and risks associated with developing eating disorders; facilitate the development of treatments; and promote education, prevention, and recovery from these illnesses. The organization’s vision is a nation in which eating disorders are fully preventable, manageable, and recoverable. As a charity serving the community of people impacted by eating disorders across the United States, FREED relies on the generosity of donors and supporters to fund its programs and activities to meet its mission. Additional information is available on the FREED website.

The Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (HBTRC) was established at McLean Hospital in 1978. Federally funded and part of the NIH NeuroBioBank, the HBTRC is a centralized resource for the collection of brain samples from donors with neurological and psychiatric brain disorders, as well as from non-affected donors. It collects brain and tissue samples from across the US and distributes them to investigators all over the world. Its mission is to provide a resource for researchers studying the human brain and the neurobiological causes of brain disorders. Thanks to the efforts of the HBTRC, dedicated investigators and the generosity of a growing number of brain donors and their families, genetic, molecular, and anatomical findings from these studies are paving the way for a better understanding of these disorders and of the people that suffers from them and are providing impetus for the development of new treatments.

McLean Hospital is the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a member of Partners HealthCare. In 2017, it was named the #1 hospital for psychiatric care in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. For more information about McLean, visit or follow the hospital on Facebook or Twitter.