Author: Ya-Ke (Grace) Wu, PhD, RN
When I knew that I received T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing to support my postdoctoral training at the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders (CEED), I felt like I was the luckiest person in the world! I received my PhD degree from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing in 2018. My dissertation examined the biological mechanisms associated with the chronic stress of weight stigma and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation in Asian-Americans with binge-eating and obesity using hair cortisol as a biological marker.
My PhD research experience inspired me to further my postdoctoral training in the area of eating disorders at CEED with Dr. Jessica Baker, who is an expert in eating disorders and behavioral genetics. Before my postdoctoral training, I never received formal training in the field of eating disorders. I started my postdoctoral training at CEED in 2018. My first impression about CEED is that this is a center that focuses on “team science” —it focuses on collaborative efforts from researchers with diverse backgrounds and different areas of expertise to address scientific challenges of eating disorders . CEED is a world-renowned genetic research center and one of few eating disorders centers in the nation with access to global genomic databases. The Center’s research goals are to develop a deeper understanding of the influences of biological, genetic, and environmental factors on eating disorders and create more efficient diagnostic, treatment, and prevention strategies for eating disorders. The Center provides excellent training and resources in uniting multidisciplinary expertise and genomic sciences, which assisted me in completing my postdoctoral training.
My postdoctoral training activities at CEED have included: observing eating disorder clinical services, participating in eating disorder didactic seminars and team meetings, and developing reference libraries for eating disorders. During my training, I had the privilege of collaborating with eating disorder research experts at CEED to complete several studies, such as examining stress and appetite hormones in predicting binge eating, investigating statistically significant and clinically meaningful human peripheral biomarkers that are associated with eating disorders, exploring genetic influences on binge eating, and understanding the role of eating expectancy (i.e., one’s learning history regarding eating behaviors and the consequences that are stored in memory) in food addiction. Also, I had the privilege of attending the Center’s regular team meetings, where I learned foundational knowledge about genetics research in binge eating through the Binge-Eating Genetics INitiative, a genome-wide association study that is currently being conducted by Dr. Cynthia Bulik to understand the genetic factors that may be associated with binge-eating disorder. The knowledge that I gained from my postdoctoral training at CEED influenced my research interests from only focusing on chronic stress and stress biomarkers to a multidimensional approach including the genetics of binge eating.
One of the unique opportunities that a trainee can expect at CEED is clinical observations. My clinical observation experiences at CEED helped determine my future research direction. I observed pre-and post-bariatric surgery clinical evaluations during my postdoctoral training at the UNC Bariatric Surgery Clinic. I learned from our Clinical Psychiatrists that for those patients who have been diagnosed with a binge-eating disorder before bariatric surgery, the severity of binge eating increased one year after the surgery and predicted less weight loss at the two-year post-surgery evaluation . This clinical experience has inspired me to develop an NIH K01 grant proposal focusing on risk prediction of postoperative binge eating.
In addition to research and training activities, there were lots of fun events and activities hosted at CEED, such as a summer ice cream party at an outdoor park, an annual CEED party with Dr. Bulik and members of CEED, and the annual “Walk for Hope” event with The Foundation of Hope to raise awareness and research funds to support those with eating disorders and other mental health conditions (https://walkforhope.com/events/drive-thru-walk-for-hope/). Those events were great opportunities to get to know each other at CEED and engage with our communities!
I finished my postdoctoral training in June 2020 and started my faculty position at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing in July 2020. I was honored to be featured on The Well as one of the new faculty at the UNC-Chapel Hill (https://thewell.unc.edu/2020/08/03/roll-out-the-welcome-mat/), where I talked about my research and how CEED supported my postdoctoral training. I am glad to know that I will not be away from CEED after completing my training, and I will continue my work with all my friends at CEED in the future!
1. Bennett, L.M. and H. Gadlin, Collaboration and team science: From theory to practice. J Investig Med, 2012. 60(5): p. 768-75.
2. Smith, K.E., et al., Loss of control eating and binge eating in the 7 years following bariatric surgery. Obes Surg, 2019. 29(6): p. 1773-1780.