Calling all London twins

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Janet Morgan and Janese Samuels

The Department of Twin Research (Kings College London), based at St Thomas’ Hospital is looking for 500 pairs of London-based twins from all ethnicities to help investigate how an urban environment affects our genes.

The research, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, will investigate many diseases and aspects of public health including:

  • assessing levels of pollution exposure in twins and comparing this to their health and genetic biomarkers, to determine pollution’s influence on health, wellbeing, and the development of chronic disease;
  • investigating allergy and autoimmune diseases by comparing the white blood cells of affected twins with their unaffected siblings;
  • learning more about the genetic versus environmental factors of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries due to cholesterol build up).

Since our registry of adult twins, TwinsUK, began in 1992, it has been used it to study the genetic and environmental causes of age-related diseases like osteoporosis, and diseases with a large public health impact such as heart disease and diabetes.

“Twins are an amazing and unique resource. The TwinsUK Bioresource, with 12,000 twins, is the UK’s largest registry of adult twins, benefiting enormously from the unique collaboration between volunteers, King’s College London, and Guy’s and St Thomas’,” says Professor Tim Spector, Director of the department. “This new NHS recruitment drive, funded by our NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, is exciting as it will show how our genes are affected by city living as well as other ground-breaking studies.”

Gail Clement, the research nurse manager who oversees the department’s clinical projects said: “Over the last 20 years we have built up a cohort of 12,000 twins across the UK – now we’re targeting Londoners as they are a large and varied population within a single urban environment. Twins of all ethnicities are welcome, and particularly those of African, Afro-Caribbean and Asian ancestry as these groups are very under represented in research.”

Unexpected benefits

When 52 year old identical twins Janet Morgan and Janese Samuels signed up to the TwinsUK Bioresource, the standard health check revealed that they both have a potentially lethal heart condition.

Janet said: “We went along to volunteer for health studies and expected nothing in return. You just have basic health tests – there aren’t lots of invasive procedures – so we were shocked to discover that my sister had previously had a minor heart attack. We believe this information saved our lives.”

Janet and Janese now have a clean bill of health and are on long term medication to ensure that they stay healthy and well.

Janet and Janese are keen supporters of the new recruitment drive. Janese said: “Since we signed up 15 years ago, we’ve encouraged as many twins as possible to volunteer for health studies – whether identical and non-identical, male and female, age 18 and up, and from every walk of life. Biomedical research benefits everyone, but you never know how things will turn out and the life you save might be your own.”

Twins that are interested in finding out more about the TwinsUK Bioresource can call 020 7188 5555 or email [email protected].

Last updated: May 2012

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