Eating Disorder Research Program

  • Guido K.W. Frank, MD – Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus; Associate Medical Director, Eating Disorders Program, Children’s Hospital Colorado; Director, Developmental Brain Research Program.
  • Tamara L. Pryor, PhD, FAED – Clinical Director and Director of Clinical Research Eating Disorder Center of Denver
  • Megan E. Shott, BS – Senior Professional Research Assistant, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
  • Justin Riederer, BS – Professional Research Assistant, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

EDCD has maintained a research collaboration with Dr. Guido Frank at Children’s Hospital Colorado for the past 7 years. Dr. Frank is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado Denver. He is also the Associate Director of the Eating Disorders Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado and is Director of the Developmental Brain Research Program whose research focuses on biological and behavioral research in adolescents and adults with eating disorders.

Over the past seven years since being at the University of Colorado, Dr. Frank has published over 30 articles in peer-reviewed journals, and many prior to that. Many of the publications have included patients recruited from EDC Denver. The Clinical Director of EDC Denver, Dr. Tamara Pryor, has been instrumental in making these studies happen and has co-authored several of these publications.

Developmental Brain Research

Focusing on Eating Disorders

The eating disorders (EDs) Anorexia (AN) and Bulimia Nervosa (BN) are severe psychiatric disorders that most commonly begin during adolescence (APA, 2000; Sullivan, 1995). The teenage years form a critical period of significant changes in both biological and psychosocial development. Neurobiologic and genetic factors have only recently been recognized as contributing to the development of AN and BN, in addition to well-known psychological and environmental factors. This new understanding of the etiology of EDs lays the foundation for a developmental neuroscience perspective in ED research. In this chapter, we describe ED phenotypes and the current knowledge of their neurobiology. Several limitations should be noted: Because women are predominantly affected, research in males has been sparse, and thus this review focuses on the female population. Second, although AN and BN usually begin in adolescence, most available neurobiologic research has studied women above the age of 18 years, and developmental aspects have been largely ignored.

Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is associated with emaciation, intense fear of gaining weight, feeling fat despite being underweight, and amenorrhea for three or more months. About 95% percent of affected individuals are female. A restricting type has been distinguished from a binge-eating/purging type. AN has the highest mortality rate of the psychiatric disorders.

Bulimia Nervosa (BN) is characterized by recurrent binge eating episodes, a loss of control over amount eaten, followed by behaviors to counteract weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, or over-exercising. About 90% of BN individuals are females, usually of normal body weight, who are preoccupied with food and weight.

For Binge Eating Disorder (BED), current research criteria (DSM-IV) includes the existence of recurrent binge eating episodes accompanied with a loss of control, similar to BN; however, this disorder lacks the compensatory behavior such as vomiting or over exercising seen in BN. BED patients are usually highly obese and have a high weight fluctuation pattern.

Currently, Dr. Frank is conducting a National Institutes of Health funded study in females ages 16 to 29 years who are admitted into the Partial Hospitalization Program at the Eating Disorder Center of Denver and the Eating Disorders Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado. This study allows for any diagnosis of an eating disorder as well as comorbid anxiety or depression and most medication use. Over the course of the next 5 years, he and his research team will recruit 300 females with eating disorders and 100 healthy comparison control individuals. Eligible patients who are interested in participating will meet with Dr. Frank and his research team and go over the study procedures and consent forms. The other study procedures include a diagnostic assessment, a questionnaire packet about mood, eating behaviors, and personality traits, and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan where participants taste sweet and neutral stimuli during brain imaging, as well as have their brain structure studied.

We have included some selected abstracts of publications and links to the full text below:

Neuropsychopharmacology (2015)

Greater Insula White Matter Fiber Connectivity in Women Recovered form Anorexia Nervosa

Megan E. Shott, Tamara L Pryor, Tony T Yang, and Guido KW Frank

International Journal of Obesity (2014)

Orbitofrontal cortex volume and brain reward response in obesity

ME Shott, M-A Cornier, VA Mittal, TL Pryor, MS Brown and GKW Frank