The American Brain Society is proud to announce its support for two cutting-edge research projects for anorexia nervosa.  Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, with one in every 200 American women suffering from the disease at some point during her life.

Our participation in these projects for anorexia nervosa showcases our unwavering commitment and support for the Scientific Research Community who are working tirelessly toward finding treatment and cures for this brain disorder and many others.

Both research projects have been vetted to ensure we select innovative initiatives with the most promising outcomes, and are championed by renowned doctors who are leaders in their respective fields.

About The Research & The Scientists Leading The Way

Project One: Taste Preferences, Brain Reward Circuitry Activation, And The Neurobehavioral Effects Of Weight Restoration In Anorexia Nervosa

Lead Scientist:  Angela Guarda, MD

Scientific Goals & Description

Although its cause is unknown, one factor believed to contribute to the disorder’s stubborn perseverance is the dysregulation of brain reward systems activated by palatable, calorie-dense foods.  The purpose of this study is geared at identifying brain reward-circuitry mechanisms involved in anorexia nervosa and to direct the development of future, personalized, treatment options and medical therapies.

Current treatment focuses on weight restoration and the normalization of food intake, essential components of recovery and remission.  Through this project, Dr. Guarda and her team of eating disorder experts seek to understand brain changes that maintain anorectic thinking and behavior patterns, with the ultimate goal of improving existing treatments for severe anorexia nervosa.

Scientific Process

Using functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) before and after hospital-based treatment for anorexia nervosa, the researchers will scan brain reward circuitry and look for any neural correlation with this disorder.  Dr. Guarda and her team are very interested in shifts in taste preference and changes in the activation of brain reward circuits in the acutely ill versus the weight restored states of anorexia nervosa.

Project Extension

Following this pilot project, the team will seem funding to extend the research to study additional considerations such as the rehabilitation comparison of healthy-weight matched control participants to those with anorexia nervosa.

About The Lead Scientist, Angela Guarda, MD

There is no doctor more experienced and knowledgeable in the field of eating disorders than Dr. Angela Guarda. She has over 20 years of experience as the Director of the Eating Disorders Program at Johns Hopkins Hospital and is an expert in the intensive treatment of adult anorexia nervosa with high severity and chronicity.  The recipient of grant funding and countless awards, including America’s Top Doctors, and an active member of the psychiatric and research community, it is her expertise and commitment to her patients that helps people get better.

“Dr. Guarda is easily one of the top clinicians I have ever dealt with, in any field.  I was a patient on the Johns Hopkins Eating Disorders unit roughly 7 1/2 years ago (hospitalized for anorexia)…The program Dr. Guarda runs is considered to be one of the best in the nation – it is not easy but patients get well.  Alongside the toughness, though, is an extremely compassionate human being who deeply cares about her patient’s outcomes,” says a former patient of Dr. Guarda.

Renowned for her forefront thinking, Dr. Guarda’s clinical research interests include improving behavioral interventions and weight restoration outcomes for severe anorexia nervosa.  Her research lab is focused on things such as:

  • Alterations in attention to food stimuli
  • Decision-making around food choice
  • Neurobiological alterations that contribute to sustaining a dietary restriction
  • Other weight control behaviors in persons with anorexia nervosa.

She also closely collaborates with her colleagues on research including meal-based studies examining disturbances in neuroendocrine hunger and satiety signaling that may sustain disordered eating behavior, and in the study of animal models of anorexia nervosa.

The video below highlights Dr. Guarda and her extraordinary work as the Director of the Eating Disorders Program at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Project Two: Role of Oxidative Stress in Patients with Anorexia Nervosa

LEAD SCIENTIST:  Timothy H. Moran, Ph.D.

Scientific Goal & Description

Acutely ill patients with anorexia nervosa have been shown to have increased oxidative stress, an imbalance between antioxidants and free-radicals compared to healthy controls.  Similarly, a low ratio of antioxidants to free radicals has been observed in several disease states including obsessive-compulsive disorder and drug addiction, other psychiatric disorders characterized by compulsive behaviors and high rates of relapse.

Relapse rates remain significant, so the goal of this project is to examine oxidative stress as a potential biological mechanism contributing to the relapse in anorexia nervosa patients.

Scientific Process

This research project will address the relationship of the oxidative state of patients with anorexia nervosa in various stages of the disorder such as improvement, weight regain, rehabilitation, relapse and more.  Researchers will test blood from patients at admission and at discharge from the Johns Hopkins Eating Disorder Program, a highly successful inpatient weight restoration program for patients with anorexia nervosa directed by Dr. Angela Guarda.  These samples will be processed for markers of oxidative stress, and following following weight restoration, patients will be administered an antioxidant, N-acetylcysteine, to determine if this provides therapeutic relief and prevent relapse.

Project Funding 

Further funding will provide more equipment and supplies needed for Dr. Moran and his team, and support a pilot study to determine whether the administration of the antioxidant and nutritional supplement N-acetylcysteine curbs compulsive behaviors including restrictive eating and exercise following weight restoration and impacts relapse risk.

About the Lead Scientist, Timothy H. Moran, PH.D.

Like his colleague, Dr. Guarda, Timothy H. Moran, Ph.D., is at the forefront of his field.  He leads the way in research for eating disorders, obesity, and weight disorders.

Dr. Moran is the Paul R. McHugh Professor of Motivated Behaviors and the Executive Vice-Chair for the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

He is also Director of Behavioral and Biological Research in the Johns Hopkins Global Center for Obesity Prevention at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he has a joint appointment as Professor of International Health.

For nearly 40 years, Dr. Moran has dedicated himself to breakthrough research and relentless commitment to his patients.  His research projects have resulted in over 325 original data articles, reviews, and book chapters.  Dr. Moran is also a Council member of the Obesity Society, past president of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, and chair of the NIH Integrative Physiology of Obesity and Diabetes Study Section.

A sought-after speaker and renowned clinician, his research interests are in brain/behavior relationships as they apply to the control of food intake and body weight and is focused on elements such as:

  • The causes and consequences of obesity and eating disorders
  • Brain/gut peptides as feedback controls of meal size and how these interact with hypothalamic and reward systems involved in overall energy balance
  • The effects of exercise on food intake and hypothalamic signaling
  • How gestational and early developmental factors can bias metabolic programming through epigenetic mechanisms to contribute to obesity and type II diabetes

His lab conducts experiments at multiple levels using cell and rodent models and normal and patient populations. He collaborates widely on human studies involving obesity and eating disorders and on studies modeling aspects of the food environment and their effects on obesity.

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