Mental Health Research – Self Harm and Eating Disorders



Child and young adult mental health

As part of a continued commitment to funding research into child and young adult mental health, the Medical Research Foundation and the MRC together awarded £1.25m to six projects focused on eating disorders and self-harm.


Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses that start in adolescence and affect 15 per cent of young women and up to 4 per cent of young men. The number of people being diagnosed and entering in-patient treatment for eating disorders in England alone has increased at an average rate of 7% per annum since 2009. Whilst this may, in some part, be a result of increased understanding about eating disorders within families and better self-referral, it is also a result of increasing incidence fuelled by the internet and social media.


Dr Nadia Micali, University College London

TitleThe developmental role of metabolism, appetite and growth in eating disorders: exploring novel longitudinal risk pathways

A study into the role that metabolism and growth play in the development of eating disorders. The project will explore if specific changes in metabolic function, appetite and growth factors lead to the onset of eating disorders. We hope that by identifying risk factors for adolescent and young adult eating disorders Dr Micali will be in a strong position to undertake larger and more detailed studies in future that will lead to better prevention and treatment.


Dr Sunjeev Kamboj, University College London

TitleUnderstanding maladaptive reward memory in young people who binge eat: Application of novel insights from addiction

A study to explore the use of new behavioural techniques to help treat binge eating disorder, focusing on ‘re-writing’ reward memories. Reward memories, in response to food cues, may play a key role in binge eating disorder. Techniques shown to help reduce addicts’ responses to drug cues, could also have an effect on binge eating behaviour. The findings from this study could in future support people seeking help for binge eating disorder.


Dr Sylvane Desrivieres, King’s College London

Title: Neurobiological underpinning of eating disorders: integrative biopsychosocial longitudinal analyses in adolescents

This study aims to understand how dysfunctional eating behaviours develop, in order to identify factors which may occur before the appearance of an eating disorder. Using  a cohort of 2,000 young people who have been studied from the age of 14, the team will identify possible risk factors involved in the development of eating disorders, which could inform future prevention and treatment strategies.


Dr Kate Tchanturia, King’s Colleges London

Title: The Triple A study (Adolescents with Anorexia and Autism): A search for biomarkers

A study of adolescent anorexia nervosa patients with autism spectrum disorder symptoms when they first present for treatment. Given the overlap in symptoms of these conditions, is it thought that autism spectrum disorder symptoms may affect anorexia nervosa recovery. The research aims to identify vulnerable patients, at an early stage, who may be unlikely to respond to current treatment for anorexia, and with the longer term aim of shaping individualised support and treatment strategies.



Rates of self harm have increased in the UK over the past decade and are among the highest in Europe; rates are much higher among groups with high levels of poverty and in adolescents and younger adults. Repeated self-harm results in about 150,000 attendances at accident and emergency departments each year and is one of the top five causes of acute medical admission. Current understanding of these illnesses is limited, we think it is invaluable to understand why these illnesses occur in the first place, in order that approaches for prevention or early intervention can be developed.


Dr Becky Mars, University of Bristol

Title: Pathways to self-harm: Biological mechanisms and genetic contribution

An investigation into whether bad experiences in early life – such as physical and sexual abuse, or emotional neglect – are associated with specific biological processes. The study will explore whether these factors are linked with self-harm in adolescents. Based on existing data collected for other studies, the research could help identify potential markers to indicate future risk of self-harm and possible treatments for young people who self-harm.


Dr Dennis Ougrin, King’s College London

Title: Pain perception in looked after young people with self-harm

A study to investigating the link between pain and self-harm, and whether people at risk of self-harm have a different level of pain sensitivity. Dr Ougrin will look at whether a system in the brain that is known to be involved in pain is associated with self-harm. Knowledge of pain sensitivity could improve understanding of self-harm and lead to future prevention and treatment studies.


For further information on our funding opportunities please contact us.