Hope College biologist Dr. Gregory Fraley is conducting research that he hopes will help lead to a better understanding of eating disorders.

His research is into the role that brain circuitry plays in food intake in mammals.  It’s work that has recently received support through a three-year, $240,301 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“There is a very strong relationship between the onset of puberty and eating disorders,” said Fraley, a neuroscientist and associate professor of biology.  “So this research investigates one brain circuitry that overlaps both.  If we can understand the circuitry, perhaps we can understand what goes wrong when teenagers develop eating disorders.”

“If we can understand the biology, then we can start addressing solutions,” he said.

The research focuses on a neuropeptide, GnlH.  Fraley noted that GnlH has been found to have an effect on food intake but its specific functioning is little understood.  He will be exploring questions such as whether or not the neuropeptide has a direct effect or if GnlH in turn triggers other neuropeptides that themselves play a role.

Hope students regularly work with Fraley as collaborative researchers during both the school year and the summer.  He will be pursuing the new, NIH-funded project with two being supported full-time for several weeks during each of the next three summers.

He noted that the new project picks up a research strand that began as a collaborative faculty-student project in his laboratory nearly nine years ago, during the 2004-05 school year when he was a new faculty member conducting research with then-freshman Marlie Johnson, who went on to graduate in 2008, subsequently earned her DVM and is now a practicing veterinarian in Montana.

“She and I were the first people to describe this particular brain system in mammals,” Fraley said.  “And it has generated so much interest that I’m going back to it again.”