Cynthia M. Bulik

Cynthia M. Bulik


Founding Director, UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders.


Revolutionizing our understanding of anorexia nervosa through genetics. Could it be a metabo-psychiatric disorder? Essential knowledge for clinicians

Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, with deaths from consequences of starvation and suicide. Yet, we have trivialized and misunderstood this often fatal illness for decades. Our global efforts in the genetics of eating disorders have rapidly accelerated our understanding of the biology of this illness and provided clues for why we have been largely unsuccessful in its treatment. The largest genome-wide association study to date (>16,000 cases and 50,000 controls) has recently identified eight loci significantly associated with anorexia nervosa and a unique pattern of genetic correlations that strongly suggest both psychiatric and metabolic origins. 

Dr. Bulik will discuss how a failure to attend to the metabolic aspects of this illness may contribute to poor treatment outcomes. Importantly, genes don’t act alone. Our work with genetics is helping identify who is most vulnerable to social pressures to diet or achieve negative energy balance. In this talk, Dr. Bulik will also provide a blueprint for clinicians to understand the basics of complex trait genetics and how to talk with patients and families about genetic and environmental causes of illness.

Short Bio

Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Professor, Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.