We do it every day — multiple times a day — but for some people, eating is much more complex.
Eating behavior is an area of significant interest at Sanford Research, a multi-site biomedical research institute that aims to advance health care in the Midwest and beyond through scientific discovery.
At the Center for Biobehavioral Mechanisms of Eating Behavior (CBM-EB) in Fargo, North Dakota, Sanford researchers — alongside colleagues from North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota — work to identify the factors that promote the development of serious eating disorders and related conditions.
The problematic eating behaviors studied at the CBM-EB are primarily seen in psychiatric disorders such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
According to Stephen Wonderlich, Ph.D., principal investigator for the CBM-EB, this research is important in curbing the immense impact of eating disorders in the U.S.
“Eating disorders are a really significant problem among adolescents and adults. They’re some of the most common chronic illnesses in adolescents,” he said. “They also cause a lot of damage. For example, anorexia nervosa is the most lethal psychiatric disorder in the world.”
Powered by CoBRE
The CBM-EB is funded by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (CoBRE) grant. These grants are awarded with the intention of establishing and developing innovative, state-of-the-art biomedical and behavioral research centers across the U.S.
“The grant is designed to help build a true center of excellence in a specific area,” Dr. Wonderlich said. “It has allowed us the opportunity to improve our research technology, attract talent and expand our whole enterprise to make this a bigger, better center for eating disorders research.”
The CoBRE grant is currently supporting five human-subject studies at the CBM-EB. For the studies to happen, the researchers need subjects who are interested in helping scientists and doctors better understand the predictors of eating disorders, which can in turn inform ideas for treatments.
Of the five CoBRE-sponsored studies being conducted at the CBM-EB in Fargo, two are currently accepting participants. These studies are unique opportunities for members of the public to contribute to scientific research and make a real difference in people’s lives.
Links between sleeping and eating
The first study, directed by Leah Irish, Ph.D., is titled “A Prospective Examination of Sleep, Eating Behavior and Weight Gain Among Overweight Adults.”
“This research project will contribute to a broader body of work investigating how sleep affects weight and for whom this link may be particularly harmful,” Dr. Irish said. “This can help us to identify individuals who are most likely to benefit from intervention.”
For her study, Dr. Irish is seeking participants between 18 and 45 years old who are overweight and experience binge eating at least once per week. Over the course of six to eight months, participants will undergo two screening assessments, six in-person study visits and three at-home sleep assessments. They will receive compensation for their participation.
Brain connections to binge eating
The second CoBRE study, directed by Jeffrey Johnson, Ph.D., is titled “Neural Mechanisms of Biased Attention Towards Disorder-salient Stimuli in Bulimia Nervosa.”
“This research is important because it will increase our understanding of the cognitive and neural factors that may give rise to and serve to maintain problematic eating patterns,” Dr. Johnson said. “Although this study does not focus on developing treatments for binge eating and related conditions, it is our hope that the knowledge gained from this study will contribute to the refinement of treatments for these conditions in the future.”
For his research, Dr. Johnson is seeking participants between 18 and 45 years old who have a body-mass index (BMI) of 18 or higher. Participants will undergo three study visits, including one electroencephalography (EEG) scan and one functional magnetic resonance imaging scan (fMRI), over the course of one to two weeks.
A six-month follow-up visit will conclude the Johnson study, and participants will receive compensation for their time.
Both studies follow safe, commonly used research methods that have been carefully reviewed and approved by the Sanford Institutional Review Board. All known risks and benefits will be communicated to participants prior to the start of the study, and participants can opt out at any time and for any reason.
Mutually beneficial research
All three researchers — Dr. Wonderlich, Dr. Irish and Dr. Johnson — emphasized that participants do a great service to the scientific and medical communities and the public by enrolling. Dr. Irish added that many participants experience a personal benefit as well.
“In addition to direct compensation that research participation provides, many report positive feelings about participating in research,” she said. “Perhaps they find the experience personally meaningful or educational, or maybe they felt good contributing to the development of solutions that can help others live a better life.”
If you meet the criteria outlined above and are interested in contributing to this innovative and important research, please complete a short survey and wait to hear from a researcher at the CBM-EB.
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