An international research team, led by scientists at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, has created the first cellular model of anorexia nervosa by using stem cells taken from teenage girls with the eating disorder.

Writing in the March 14th issue of Translational Psychiatry, the scientists found said the study revealed a "novel gene" that appears to contribute to the disorder, supporting the idea that Anorexia has a strong genetic factor. 

“Anorexia is a very complicated, multifactorial neurodevelopmental disorder,” said Alysson Muotri, PhD, professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine departments of Pediatrics and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program and a member of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. “It has proved to be a very difficult disease to study, let alone treat. We don’t actually have good experimental models for eating disorders. In fact, there are no treatments to reverse AN symptoms.”

Primarily affecting young female adolescents between ages 15 and 19, (though estimates as high as 30% of boys/men can struggle with the disorder) Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by distorted body image and self-imposed food restriction to the point of emaciation or death. 

It has the highest mortality rate among psychiatric conditions. For females between 15 and 24 years old who suffer from AN, the mortality rate associated with the illness is 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death.

For more on the study head over to Nature.com