National Eating Disorders Brain Bank Will Contribute to Mental Health Research and Care

February 28, 2018

McLean Hospital’s Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (HBTRC) and the Foundation for Research and Education in Eating Disorders (FREED), an organization dedicated to helping determine the causes and risk factors associated with eating disorders, have partnered to establish the first and only national brain bank dedicated to research into eating disorders—the National Eating Disorders Brain Bank.

The goal of this collection, which will be housed at McLean, is to provide the scientific community with a focused and robust resource to help determine the causes and impacts of eating disorders and advance treatment approaches. The HBTRC, one of the largest brain banks in the world, is also home to specialized brain collections for dystonia, restless legs syndrome, Rett syndrome, Tourette syndrome, CDKL5 syndrome, and FOXG1 syndrome, which are similarly aimed at accelerating research while raising awareness. McLean’s brain bank also includes healthy brains used as control samples in research studies, an important aspect of scientific investigation into eating disorders and other mental health conditions.

FREED/HBTRC eating disorders collection
The National Eating Disorders Brain Bank will contribute to finding causes and improved treatments for these serious neuropsychiatric illnesses

“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 Sabina Berretta, MD, scientific director of the HBTRC.

“The National Eating Disorders Brain Bank will represent an invaluable asset to a growing research community focused on eating disorders,” added T. Wilson Woo, MD, PhD, medical director of the HBTRC.

The term eating disorders refers to a variety of disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. The common feature of all eating disorders is the presence of an abnormal eating behavior. Approximately 8 million people in the U.S. today are living with one of these conditions, which are serious mental health problems and can be life-threatening due to significant medical complications. These complex conditions not only have a profoundly negative impact on the individuals living with an eating disorder, but also on their families.

“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 illnesses, and who are at risk,” said Kevin St. P. McNaught, PhD, executive director of FREED. “The brain bank will allow researchers to explore the nervous system to gain a better understanding of the biology of these conditions.”

While the national brain bank is in its early developmental stage, expectations are that its samples will soon play a role in meaningful research. Stuart Koman, PhD, a co-founder of FREED, expressed his belief 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.”

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