Eating Disorders (ED) affect between 10-20% of adolescents and young adults. They are not only common but also have a great impact on an individual’s social, physical and psychological wellbeing. ED are costly to healthcare and society, however we still know little about how ED onset, develop, and their course over the lifetime. Research and clinical approaches to ED are very fragmented in Switzerland, with little expertise and specialist centres. This lack of research and collaboration does not only affect single institutions, but also the opportunity to create a leading common research and teaching strategy that can serve as a catalyst for joint work.
This project aims to start joint research and teaching activities between the two academic leading research centres for ED in Switzerland (led by Prof Micali and Prof Milos), by developing the first register/biobank of ED in Switzerland, and designing corollary teaching and training materials. We will develop a digital platform that will: a) enable research data collectionfor the ED register/biobank,and b) at a later stage the development of training modules for students, researchers and clinicians. The register/biobank will focus on collecting pseudonymised (according to the rules of swissethics.ch) behavioural, biological and healthcare access data on individuals with ED to enable large-scale research studies on risk factors and outcomes of ED, these research activities will foster training of students and researchers. Switzerland is the ideal country to develop a register/biobank, given the size of the population, the diversity, and natural proximity of large cities and to other European Countries. This will include patients and individuals from the community leading to lower likelihood of bias. An ED register/biobank that only includes genetic and phenotype data has been very successfully achieved in the UK and Australia.
Strengths of this collaboration include building on synergies and unique expertise: clinical research and teaching, focus across ages (children – adolescents - adults), integration of research on behavioural, and biological aspects.
UNIGE focuses primarily on genetics. UZH on physical health, e.g. long-term consequence of underweight on bones, and other organs systems. Both UNIGE and UZH on neurobiological research. The applicants have excellent collaborations with international ED experts (e.g. both are members of the Eating Disorders Research Society), and contribute to international consortia (Prof Micali is a member of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium ED group; Prof Milos is a member of ENIGMA-ED, a working group dedicated to improving the understanding of brain changes in ED). Moreover, both applicants have expertise in epidemiology. UNIGE has collaborations with some of the Europeanlargest birth cohorts (ALSPAC, Generation R, DNBC, HUNT, MCS), and biobanks (ALSPAC, HUNT).
The seed funding will allow planning meetings, putting in place the necessary ethical and digital framework for setting up the register/biobank; as well as developing a strategy for teachingand training activities. Building on the seed fund we aim to apply for national and international funding to enable specific research and training activities based on this novel resource.
Prof. Nadia Micali, University of Geneva
Dr. Gabriella Milos, University of Zurich