AN25K Project Asks: What is the Anorexia Gene?

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

Anorexia nervosa has some of the highest rates of death of any psychiatric disease, with an estimated mortality rate of more than 10 percent. From an outsider’s perspective, anorexia nervosa may seem like nothing more than bad eating habits. In reality, the disorder is far more complex.

Experts have long believed that eating disorders have a genetic component; anorexia tends to run strongly in families. There is also a potential gender component; anorexia is far more common in women than in men. Thanks to AN25K, a groundbreaking world-wide genetic study among anorexics, scientists may finally understand the role our genes play in this particular eating disorder.

The Call for DNA Samples

Females and males who have had anorexia nervosa at any point in their lives are being asked to come forward and donate DNA samples to the global AN25K study…
Females and males who have had anorexia nervosa at any point in their lives are being asked to come forward and donate DNA samples to the global AN25K study, a project led by the U.S.-based Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI). Once collected, the DNA samples will be compared to samples obtained from people without an eating disorder. The comparison will help scientists detect genes that contribute to this life-threatening eating disorder. Their goal is to show that specific genetic links are present among those with eating disorders.

Once ANGI researchers are able to establish genetic traits specific to anorexia, they can develop better methods of detection, treatment, and prevention. The AN25K research study aims to transform our existing knowledge of eating disorders and ultimately work toward finding a cure. It is not an exaggeration to say that data from the ANGI study could forever change the lives of millions, offering hope to people struggling with anorexia and their loved ones.

The ANGI Initiative

ANGI’s AN25K research study is the largest and most in-depth genetic investigation of eating disorders that has ever been conducted. Under the direction of Professor Cynthia Bulik, researchers in the United States, Sweden, Australia, the U.K., and Denmark hope to ultimately collect a total of 25,000 DNA samples. Once the clinical information and blood samples are obtained, researchers feel confident they will be able to “crack the code” that renders some people predisposed to an eating disorder.

Researchers in the United States, Sweden, Australia, the U.K., and Denmark hope to ultimately collect a total of 25,000 DNA samples.

What Happens After the DNA Samples are Collected?

Once the necessary samples are collected, they will be sent to a specialized processing lab in Brisbane, Australia. From there, the DNA will be flown to another state-of-the-art lab at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Here, the DNA samples will be genotyped and studied in-depth.

The AN25K study is a four-year project. By the end of those four years, researchers hope to find the principal genes associated with anorexia nervosa. Turning that knowledge into a cure, however, will take much longer. The time between a genetic discovery and the development of new drugs takes approximately 15 years. But new drugs aren’t the only possible outcome—results will help experts understand the biology of anorexia nervosa and may also help to identify the people who are at the greatest risk of developing the eating disorder. As with all potentially life-threatening disorders, prevention is the best medicine.

Previous Gene Research

This discovery suggested that anorexia could be caused, in part, by a disruption in the body’s normal processing of cholesterol.

The AN25K study is not the first genetic research to be conducted on anorexia. In fact, over the last decade, multiple research studies have gathered small bits and pieces of the genetic puzzle. One of the most important breakthroughs came from a 2013 study that identified the gene EPHX2. This discovery suggested that anorexia could be caused, in part, by a disruption in the body’s normal processing of cholesterol. This slight disruption appears to drastically alter both mood and eating behaviors, proving just how much power is packed into microscopic genes.


If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, call our toll-free helpline at 1-888-332-2565 and speak to a recovery advisor today.

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