Psychobiologica impact of semi-starvation on food choices in anorexia
Last modification : Thursday, June 10, 2021
This project is situated within the MIND-BODY research (MBR), at the
Research group of Psychiatry, KU Leuven, Belgium. The MBR group has a
longstanding expertise in stress research and investing biological markers of
the positive and negative valence system in different psychiatric illnesses.
The group is also closely linked to the University Psychiatric Center (UPC KU
Leuven), facilitating access to patients for clinical studies. The PhD-
student of this project will be directly supervised by Prof Elske Vrieze. She
is co-PI of the MBR group and specialist in eating disorders.
Already during World War II, the famous Minnesota Starvation Experiment in
healthy men showed that semi-starvation causes disturbed food desire, elevated
negative affect, stress and disordered eating choices. We see this also in
anorexia nervosa (AN) patients, where cognitive-affective processes (e.g.
drive for food, positive and negative affect, and self-control through food-
control) are severely impacted by underlying physical processes once patients
reach a semi-starvation state. For example, Patients with AN do not detect
strong signals for hunger and satiety and experience a profound sense of
stress and anxiety for food, instead of experiencing pleasure or reward. These
alterations in motivational and appetitive functioning make food choices
highly stressful for AN patients and re-nourishment during treatment often a
negative experience. This project investigates the role of biological
mechanisms (eg. GI-peptides, microbiota, immune markers, nutritional state…)
associated to semi-starvation, in stress sensitivity, cognitive-affective
state and food choices in AN. Specifically we will investigating the
relationship between these biological markers with two psychobiological
endophenotypes involved in AN patients' aberrant eating habits: the positive
valence system (positive affect, drive to eat and taste, resulting in affect-
related food choices) and the arousal/regulatory system (eg. energy balance
and stress arousal).
We are looking for a candidate with the following qualifications:
1 Degree in Medicine, Psychology, Biomedical Engineering or related
2 Experience in one or more of the following areas is desirable
Keen interest in human stress biology and neuroscience of food choices
Clinical skills and patient contact.
Curiosity and ambition to learn new skills and techniques
Keen interest in statistics
3 Skill in one or more of the following areas is a plus
Strong communication and social skills.
Analytical skills and well organized.
Interested in teamwork.
Ability to work independently.
The successful candidate will be awarded a full-time PhD position at KU Leuven
and will be embedded in the MBR research groups. Currently funding is
available for 3 year.
For more information please contact Prof. dr. Elske Vrieze, tel.: +32 16 19 33
22, mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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