Eating disorders

Mental health

At a glance

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

Lead researcher

Dr Kate Tchanturia


King's College London



Amount awarded


Last updated



A Medical Research Foundation-MRC funded study of adolescent anorexia nervosa patients with autism spectrum disorder symptoms when they first present for treatment.

The research aims to identify vulnerable patients, at an early stage, who may be unlikely to respond to current treatment for anorexia

Current studies exploring thinking styles and the emotional profile of individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) have demonstrated differences in thinking processes between those with AN and those who have never had an eating disorder. These include tendencies towards an inflexible thinking style, becoming stuck in details and difficulty with social functions such as recognising and expressing emotions and interacting with others. Brain imaging studies have also highlighted different patterns of brain function during these processes in individuals with AN.

These characteristics are also defining symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which has led to research focussing on the overlap between AN and ASD. Although ASD and AN are associated with opposite gender ratios (ASD being more common in males, AN in females), recent findings demonstrate that a proportion of adult females with severe and chronic AN have elevated levels of autistic symptoms. Such elevated ASD traits are also associated with poorer treatment outcomes.

There is little work focussing on this illness profile at the early stages of the disorder, and research is urgently needed to examine both the cognitive and neurobiological profile of young people with AN when they first present with the disorder, also considering the potential role of ASD symptoms in their recovery.

Dr Kate Tchanturia from King’s College London has been awarded a Medical Research Foundation-MRC research grant to study adolescent AN patients with ASD symptoms when they first present for treatment. Her research aims to identify vulnerable patients, at an early stage, who may be unlikely to respond to current treatment for anorexia. The long-term aim of this research is to lay the foundation to shape individualised support and treatment strategies for patients with eating disorders.

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Mental Health – Eating Disorders

  • Why there is a need to fund new research

    Eating disorders are life-threatening mental illnesses that can start in adolescence and affect 15 per cent of young women and up to four 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. Eating disorders are complex and we are yet to understand why someone develops one or how best to treat them. A whole range of different factors influence the development of eating disorders including genetics, psychological, environmental, social and biological factors. We need a better understanding of the causes of eating disorders and jointly with the Medical Research Council we have funded research to develop this understanding.

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