A School of Chocolate Fish

Published: July 23, 2013

Once again it is my honor to bestow the Order of the Chocolate Fish (OCF) on a deserving individual, or, in this case, individuals. The OCF is a UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders award that goes to individuals who go far above the call of duty to accomplish our mission. This is the first time that I find myself giving out an entire school of chocolate fish.

It is my privilege to induct the core members of the UNC ANGI team into the OCF. ANGI is the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative and just about everyone on the CEED team has been chipping in to launch this new project. Hardly a minute passes without the word “ANGI” being uttered. Some staff in the department thought we had actually hired a new person named Angie, as we heard phrases like, “Angie’s computer came in,” or “Angie’s boxes have arrived.” It has been a herculean task to get this four-country project up and running. The core ANGI team, consisting of Laura Thornton, Jessica Baker, and Chris Hilliard, has come together to make ANGI a reality.

Our goal is to collect clinical information and blood samples (for DNA) from 8,000 women with current or past anorexia nervosa and healthy controls over four years. I have no doubt that this team will make it happen! If you see mountains of boxes in the hall around the Bulik lab, those are blood kits that are being mailed to willing participants around the country. It has been incredible to watch as we have all developed new skills in these early months of the initiative and grown as a team.

The efforts at UNC are just the tip of the iceberg. Similar efforts are underway in Australia, Sweden, and Denmark—all under the watchful eye of Laura Thornton.

Our eventual goal is to expand even further. We have challenged the eating disorders field to collect 25,000 samples from women with anorexia over the next four years (AN25K) and we are working toward finding additional funding to do so. Moreover, we want to include men with current or past anorexia nervosa in our research, but this too will require further funding. Eventually, we will broaden our scope to collect samples from individuals with other eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa is just our starting point.

Incredible strides are being made in psychiatric genetics and we are dedicated to ensuring that similar advances occur in the field of eating disorders. For example, researchers have now amassed over 36,000 samples from individuals with schizophrenia and have identified over 100 genetic variants that contribute to the disorder. Those genetic variants are unlocking new understanding about the fundamental biology of the disease. Our efforts are designed to achieve the same exciting outcomes for anorexia nervosa.

It is my distinct pleasure and honor to bestow the OCF on those dedicated and hardworking ANGI core team members: Laura Thornton, Jessica Baker, and Chris Hilliard.


Cynthia Bulik, PhD

CEED Director,

ANGI, Principal Investigator