Researchers will use cutting-edge gene analysis to help predict who is most at risk of developing an eating disorder, thanks to a grant from Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation.

Led by Professor Tracey Wade from Flinders University, researchers will investigate predisposition to eating disorders – including Anorexia Nervosa, by using new technology to create genomic profiles called Polygenic Risk Scores.

This work involves analysing blood samples of 391 sets of female adolescent twins, 15 per cent of whom had an eating disorder.

“A polygenic risk score will be produced for each sample which is a number that represents the girl’s risk of getting an eating disorder,” Prof Wade says.

“By genotyping blood we can predict who is most at risk of getting an eating disorder and the timing of when that’s likely to occur, whether that be earlier or later in adolescence.

“If we can start to predict the people who are most vulnerable and start to work with them early, then it could stop a lot of eating disorders from developing.”

Professor Wade said this information could eventually be used to help provide earlier interventions for young people most at risk of developing an eating disorder – including regular GP screening, family history checks, and more information available at targeted times during the teenage years.

This research was recently awarded a grant from Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation, made possible thanks to a generous donor.

The work builds on an international research project which has been seeking earlier detection for various eating disorders over a number of years, but marks the first time Polygenic Risk Scores have been used to investigate eating disorders.

“This is really the first credible use of this technology,” Professor Wade says.

“It’s been used in Schizophrenia but this is the first time for eating disorders so that’s really quite unique.”

Results are expected later in 2018.

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