Anorexia Nervosa Pediatric Research and Clinical Trials

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Research & Innovation

"Part of Children's mission is to take findings generated in its laboratories and translate them to the bedside, and the CTSU [Clinical and Translational Study Unit] provides the space and resources to make that possible."

Catherine Gordon, MD, MSc, director of the Bone Health Program at Boston Children's Hospital

In addition to our clinical practice, Children’s researchers are actively involved in finding new ways to understand, treat and prevent anorexia nervosa:


A study led by Children’s researchers has shown an interesting paradox: People with anorexia have high levels of fat within their bone marrow. If the body isn’t getting enough nutrients, stem cells (the special cells that can change into other types of cells, like fat cells or blood cells) found in the bone marrow develop into fat cells, rather than bone-forming cells. This may help explain one serious consequence of anorexia — early and severe osteoporosis, or bone weakening.


Another Children’s research initiative aims to find a way to prevent bone loss in teens and in healthy adults. Estrogen helps to maintain bone density in young adults with eating disorders. DHEA is a natural hormone that is also associated with preventing bone loss and strengthening bones. Through a combination of a low-dose estrogen therapy and DHEA, it may be possible to increase bone density.


We all know that good nutritional habits and adequate exercise are key to staying healthy, but

less clearly understood is the way social and physical environments play into these goals. Children’s researchers are investigating how school and community settings affect adolescent nutrition, physical activity and risk of eating disorders — and are working to design and evaluate school- and community-based interventions and preventive measures that encourage healthy nutritional habits.

The Eating Disorders Program at Children's is actively involved in many other research projects aimed at providing a better understanding of adolescent eating disorders and developing new interventions. Our current projects include:

  • research on eating patterns and weight control behaviors that lead to eating disorders and obesity
  • a clinical trial examining the rates of Vitamin D absorption in anorectics
  • new therapies for eating disorders, including a clinical practice guideline
  • assessments of middle school environments that promote healthy nutrition, body image and physical activity
  • national ED Quality Improvement collaborative to compare and improve care of adolescents with restrictive eating disorders across the country
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