Eating Disorders Research at Children's Hospital Colorado


About the Eating Disorders Research Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado

In addition to providing clinical care for kids and adolescents, our mission includes advancing our understanding of eating disorders and improving treatment. Read more about research at Children's Hospital Colorado.

Current research efforts

We have an ongoing research studies to identify factors present at the time of admission, which may contribute to severity of illness and response to treatment, and to inform our approach to care. All patients and families entering the Eating Disorders Program are offered the opportunity to participate in this research effort.

The Eating Disorders Program is associated with the Developmental Brain Research Program (DBRP) at Children's Colorado, headed by Guido Frank, MD. Dr. Frank has been conducting eating disorders research for the past 15 years and has been working as a physician and researcher at Children’s Colorado in the eating disorders program for the past 6 years. Dr. Frank has been trained in child and adolescent psychiatry, has extensive psychotherapy training and has completed research training at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the University of California San Diego.

DBRP’s primary goal is to identify neurobiological mechanisms that may contribute to the development of eating disorders, as well as factors that make recovery difficult. We use advanced and state-of-the-art brain imaging methods to identify brain circuits that may be involved in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, obesity and binge eating disorder. These brain circuits are at the intersection of fear and food avoidance and biologic mechanisms that drive food intake. These brain mechanisms are associated with specific neurotransmitters that could be targeted with medication in order to improve the recovery from eating disorders.

In addition to the brain imaging studies, we are also conducting behavioral studies in order to identify psychological factors that could hinder recovery from eating disorders and that could be treated with specific psychotherapy interventions.

Published research

Over the past 6 years at Children’s Colorado, we have published 25 manuscripts. Selected recent publications are listed here:

  • Advances in the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa using brain imaging.
    Frank GK. Expert Opin Med Diagn. 2012 May 1;6(3):235-244.
  • Anorexia nervosa and obesity are associated with opposite brain reward response.
    Frank GK, Reynolds JR, Shott ME, Jappe L, Yang TT, Tregellas JR, O'Reilly RC. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Aug;37(9):2031-46. doi: 10.1038/npp.2012.51. Epub 2012 May 2.
  • Cognitive set-shifting in anorexia nervosa.
    Shott ME, Filoteo JV, Bhatnagar KA, Peak NJ, Hagman JO, Rockwell R, Kaye WH, Frank GK. Eur Eat Disord Rev. 2012 Sep;20(5):343-9. doi: 10.1002/erv.2172. Epub 2012 Apr 10.
  • Altered implicit category learning in anorexia nervosa.
    Shott ME, Filoteo JV, Jappe LM, Pryor T, Maddox WT, Rollin MD, Hagman JO, Frank GK. Neuropsychology. 2012 Mar;26(2):191-201. doi: 10.1037/a0026771. Epub 2011 Dec 26.
  • Altered temporal difference learning in bulimia nervosa.
    Frank GK, Reynolds JR, Shott ME, O'Reilly RC.
    Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Oct 15;70(8):728-35. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.05.011. Epub 2011 Jun 29.
  • Altered fimbria-fornix white matter integrity in anorexia nervosa predicts harm avoidance.
    Kazlouski D, Rollin MD, Tregellas J, Shott ME, Jappe LM, Hagman JO, Pryor T, Yang TT, Frank GK.
  • Heightened fear of uncertainty in anorexia and bulimia nervosa.
    Frank GK, Roblek T, Shott ME, Jappe LM, Rollin MD, Hagman JO, Pryor T.
    Int J Eat Disord. 2012 Mar;45(2):227-32. doi: 10.1002/eat.20929. Epub 2011 Apr 14.

We are also interested in the impact of medications in the course of treatment of anorexia nervosa (AN), and published a double-blind placebo controlled study of risperidone for the treatment of AN in 2011 in the Journal of the American Academy of child and Adolescent Psychiatry (Hagman J, et al, 2011;50(9):915-924.

Additionally, we have an active research study in collaboration with the Clinical Trials Research Center and the Center for Nutrition, with Janine Higgins, PhD, focused on nutrition and exercise in AN. The goal of this research is to understand the impact of dietary depletion and increased activity in onset and maintenance of anorexia nervosa; it also looks at alternative approaches to nutrient content during refeeding and weight restoration.

Can my child participate in a research study?

We are currently recruiting healthy female and male adolescents, ages 11 to 17 years old, for fMRI brain imaging and behavioral studies. Criteria for research studies are listed below:

  • Brain Imaging Studies: Right-handed, normal weight for height and age, no metal implants or braces, no medications or serious medical conditions
  • Behavioral Studies: Normal weight for height and age, no medications or serious medical conditions

Interested individuals may call 720-777-4026 or email imaging.research@childrenscolorado.org for more information.