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Bryan Lask

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 05 January 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i29
  1. Janet Fricker, Hemel Hempstead
  1. janet.fricker1{at}

Psychiatrist who raised the profile of paediatric eating disorders

Bryan Lask with his grandson, Raffi

Bryan Lask, a child psychiatrist who worked at London hospitals Great Ormond Street, and St George’s, did much to reduce the stigma associated with anorexia nervosa by promoting his theory of neurobiological deficits. Lask also established the first European clinic dedicated to the treatment and research of childhood onset eating disorders, described the natural history of anorexia in children, and was the driving force behind defining a battery of neuropsychological assessments for anorexia.

“Bryan had a pivotal role in the generational shift in thinking that took eating disorders away from being a psychosocial problem,” said Ian Frampton, Lask’s research collaborator for many years. The movement took the blame away from parents who had been held responsible for causing anorexia by the way they fed or looked after their children. Lask and his collaborators (including Frampton, Isky Gordon, and Ken Nunn) believed that children developed anorexia not because of anything they or the family had done, but because of an underlying neurological disposition.

Lask was a born communicator, memorably describing the insula (also known as the insular cortex, a brain structure featuring prominently in his anorexia research) as the “Clapham Junction of the brain”—that is, the structure affecting all the different brain areas involved with anorexia. “His strength was the fact he wasn’t an academic neuroscientist. He’d tell us when we were talking complete gobbledygook and articulate theories in language everyone could understand,” said Frampton, now a clinical psychologist at the University of Exeter.

Rachel Bryant-Waugh, another long term collaborator at Great Ormond Street, said, “Bryan had an extraordinary knack to make things happen. His enjoyment of the pursuit of knowledge was infectious, and at times he was like a child in a sweetshop …

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