UND eating disorders expert is awarded federal grant to study new therapy

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Feb. 23-March 1

By Juan Miguel Pedraza

Steve Wonderlich, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Clinical Neuroscience at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences, recently was awarded a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant to study a new treatment he has developed for binge eating disorder. It’s one of several eating-related disorders that can severely impact the health and lives of people, often younger women.

In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their lives, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or related disorders, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

News of Wonderlich’s NIMH clinical research grant is timely as the country learns more about these challenging health conditions during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb. 23 — March 1). According to NEDA, the organization behind this awareness week, the goal is to promote public attention to, and education about, the seriousness of these disorders.

Wonderlich — with a team that includes researchers from the Fargo-based and UND-affiliated Neuropsychiatric Research Institute (NRI) and colleagues at the University of Minnesota — will be conducting closely supervised trials of the new treatment with volunteers who suffer from binge eating disorder. Wonderlich and his research colleague, NRI president and Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor and Chair of Clinical Neuroscience James Mitchell, MD, are globally known for their pioneering research and clinical work with eating disorders.

The grant from NIMH — which is part of the National Institutes of Health — is part of a longer term strategy to uncover better ways of treating this disorder.

Binge eating disorder — newly introduced  into the international manual of psychiatric disorders, the DSM-5 — is a psychiatric condition characterized by loss of control over eating, significant psychiatric distress, and increased risk of obesity and medical complications, says Wonderlich, who also heads up Sanford Health’s eating disorders team.

“The project will compare a new treatment developed jointly at NRI and the University of Minnesota Medical School,” said Wonderlich, who was a member of the international team that drafted the eating disorders portion of the DSM-5. Mitchell also was on the DSM-5 eating disorders chapter team.

Wonderlich’s three year NIMH grant will fund completion of the treatment development as well as a randomized, controlled human trial comparing this treatment to another typical treatment for binge eating disorder.

The new treatment is a variation of a therapy for bulimia nervosa which was developed by the same research team and recently tested in a scientific study, says Wonderlich, who also is NRI Director of Clinical Research. These treatments involve behavioral therapy.

“Binge eating disorder is a condition which significantly impairs peoples’ lives and increases their risk of significant medical complications. New treatments for binge eating disorder are clearly needed and we are looking forward to completing the trial and hopefully establishing another effective treatment,” Wonderlich said.

Researchers on the NRI team are affiliated with the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences as well as the Sanford Health Eating Disorder and Weight Management Center.

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