CURRENT STUDIES

Twins needed! The following list of studies is actively recruiting twins to participate in their research. If you are interested, please contact the MATR for more information!

ADOLESCENT BRAIN COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT (ABCD) STUDY

This is a NEW STUDY OPPORTUNITY, for families with juvenile twin pairs ages 9 & 10 years old! This is a state-of-the-art, groundbreaking nation-wide effort to study brain and cognitive development funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Environmental, social, genetic, and other biological factors all play a role influencing the dramatic brain development that occurs during adolescence. This has a profound impact on physical and mental health, behavioral choices, and life achievements throughout childhood and well into adulthood. However, scientists have a very limited understanding of how all of these influencing factors interact with each other to boost or undermine brain development and its associated outcomes. Because of this, the National Institutes of Health or NIH urged researchers to develop a comprehensive study, unlike any other, to address this need.

To help meet this challenge, nineteen distinguished academic institutions, including VCU, have come together to establish this landmark study on brain development. (Click HERE to “meet” the VCU ABCD Principal Investigator: Dr. James Bjork.) Each ABCD study site will invite families with 9 & 10 year olds to be part of this vital research and altogether they hope to have at least 10,000 participants join these efforts! While most of the research sites will recruit singleton or non-twin children, VCU’s MATR was chosen as one of only four sites that will invite twin families to take part. The twin sites play a valuable role because twin participants will help provide the unique insight needed to unravel important gene-environment interactions influencing brain development. If you’d like to learn more about this please see the study advertisement by visiting our Participate Now page.

TEXT-4-THOUGHTS (T4T)

This is a NEW STUDY OPPORTUNITY, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for juvenile and young adult twins! Just last month, the MATR began recruitment of the juvenile group and in the coming weeks we will start contacting young adult twins about this exciting, new opportunity to participate in a study.

This study, Text-4-Thoughts (T4T), is being carried out by Dr. Cristina Bares, a professor with the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan. Similar to the JAS and AYATS research, she is focusing on this age range because adolescence and young adulthood are time periods of rapid physical and emotional development coupled with the pressures of key life changes. But unlike JAS and AYATS, Dr. Bares will focus on a different, yet equally important research question; this study focuses on how mood and behavior choices are related in older teens and young adults (ages 16 through 21 years). This age range is one in which individuals often develop certain behavior patterns (positive and negative) and health outcomes that can go on to affect a person well into their adulthood.

As a parent of a teenager, you are likely familiar with the sometimes rapid change in your teens’ moods. And young adult twins have the additional stressors related to experiencing key transitional events, like going to college, getting “real” jobs, and/or moving out on your own. Dr. Bares is hoping to track changes in moods and behavior choices throughout the day over the course of a little over a week. Using this data, she hopes to identify patterns of moods that may be influencing choices such as who a teen or young adult chooses to spend time with or what activities they might be doing.

We hope that data from this study will further the understanding of factors that are driving decisions made by teens and young adults and could ultimately help to improve how teens make decisions that may influence their life. If you’d like to learn more about this please see the study advertisement by visiting our Participate Now page.

ADOLESCENT & YOUNG ADULT TWIN STUDY (AYATS)

*The MATR has completed its recruitment for this study. If you were recruited by the MATR and have been involved with the study, please know that the AYATS study staff will continue to enroll and schedule participants for some time. We will continue to update you about AYATS on our website and in our Twins Matter newsletters.

This study is similar to JAS in that it too is looking into factors that impact why certain individuals develop internalizing disorders, like anxiety and depression. For this study, Dr. Roberson-Nay (click HERE to “meet” Dr. Roberson-Nay) is looking at a different, yet also significant developmental time period in a person’s life—that of the transition from adolescence into young adulthood. Perhaps during this time of intense change there are factors that may have increasing importance on a person’s risk to develop depression and anxiety at some point in their lives. Since both AYATS and JAS look at critical developmental periods they dovetail nicely and we are pleased to have both studies at VCU!

EFFECT OF MULTIPLE FACTORS IN A BIOBEHAVIORAL STUDY OF DATING AMONG YOUNG WOMEN (EMBODY)

Intimate or dating relationships can sometimes be stressful! Did you know that this can affect your health? More and more studies are showing a connection between some of the things that happen in intimate or dating relationships when we are younger and our health later on in life. Most of these studies have been done in young children and older adults, so Dr. Candace Burton and her colleagues at VCU are interested in focusing this question on the young adult period of development. They have partnered with the MATR to invite identical female twin pairs ages 18-20 in which at least one member of a pair has had a dating or intimate partner relationship in adolescence (between ages 11-18) to participate. The MATR has completed initial stages of recruitment with mailed items and is following up with some twins by phone. The study staff is working on enrolling twins that fit the study criteria. Thank you to those of you that have participated thus far!

MID-ATLANTIC TWIN REGISTRY SURVEY

UPDATE—we have been updating this survey and working on developing it in a different software package. Please still let us know if you’re interested, but it may be a bit before you receive your email link to the survey. Thank you for your patience!

Available to all interested adult MATR participants!

What is it?
The MATR has launched a new survey which will enrich our Registry as a potential resource for researchers. This survey will ask questions about your health habits, health conditions and demographic characteristics. It will also ask questions about your personality as well as your social and political attitudes.

How is this different from other MATR surveys?
For the first time we will be offering the option of taking this survey online! The survey and data will be housed on a secure server and you only need internet access to complete the survey.

How do I get involved?
To participate, you need to be a registered, adult twin (over 18) or other multiple in our Registry (if you're not yet registered but want to participate, feel free to contact us to register!). You can let us know you're interested in participating in the survey by sending us an email or calling us at 1-800-URA-TWIN and leaving a message for us on our voicemail. You can also click here to tell us you're interested. Feel free to let us know if you have any questions. Remember, as with all MATR related activities, participation is voluntary and you can withdraw at any time. Plus, you do not have to answer any question that you're not comfortable answering!

How will my participation help?
Though you may not benefit directly from taking part, your participation will hopefully result in improving our understanding of certain health conditions and behaviors. We hope that with this improved understanding the scientific community will be better equipped to develop enhanced prevention methods and treatment plans.

DATA ANALYSIS STUDIES

The following studies are no longer actively recruiting, but are currently in the data analysis phase. A big thanks to all the twins who participated!

JUVENILE ANXIETY STUDY (JAS)

* While MATR recruitment and the ‘main’ study enrollment has ended, Dr. Hettema, has been continuing to contact and schedule families for a pilot study to obtain magnetic resonance images (MRIs) on a small sample of the JAS participants. Dr. Hettema hopes to obtain grand funding that will allow him to follow up with JAS participants in the future. We will keep participants updated regarding follow up opportunities on this important research endeavor!

Starting late 2012, the MATR partnered with VCU researchers, Drs. John Hettema and Roxann Roberson-Nay (click HERE to learn more about both researchers) to help understand the development of internalizing disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Internalizing disorders (IDs) can greatly reduce the quality of life of the individuals that are affected by them as well as their family and friends. Very little is known about why some individuals develop IDs and others do not. The MATR invited families with twins ages 9 through 13 years old to participate. Studying twins in this age range is helpful because it allows the researchers to observe behaviors and collect basic data during a time of significant adolescent development, but before internalizing disorders are likely to be fully developed. The researchers invited twin pairs with and without signs of behaviors related to IDs to participate so they can learn more about the potential causes of these disorders. This study has the potential to not only provide a deeper understanding of the causes, but also to pioneer new ways in which doctors attempt to treat and prevent conditions like depression and anxiety.

We are pleased with the willingness of families who have agreed to participate thus far. Thank you so much to those who are a part of this study and have completed their study appointments!!

MOOD AND IMMUNE REGULATION IN TWINS (MIRT) STUDY

Mood and Immune Regulation in Twins Study logo

The MATR has completed twin recruitment for Dr. Briana Mezuk, of VCU’s Department of Family Medicine and Population Health. As of Spring 2016,the study staff has also completed its enrollment efforts and are now focusing on data analysis.

Dr. Mezuk’s team will be reaching out to participants about zygosity results so keep an eye out for their letter giving MIRT participants more information about this.

We will continue to keep you posted about findings from this study in our newsletters and on our webpage. Thank you to all the participants that were willing to hear about this study and additional appreciation to those that went on to participate!

Dr. Mezuk hopes that her study, Mood & Immune Regulation in Twins (MIRT), will allow her to better examine the relationships between environmental and biological factors that might be working together to influence the development of certain health conditions, particularly as people get older. Primarily, she is interested in how depressed mood and changes in the immune system interact to influence risk for developing type 2 diabetes, as well as the role environmental and genetic factors play in that risk. Dr. Mezuk and her colleagues hope that the results of this study will help researchers understand the links between mental and physical health as people age. Shedding light on these associations will hopefully one day allow the medical community to develop prevention and treatment plans that are more personalized to an individual’s specific biology. The MATR invited twins that lived within a couple of hours drive from Richmond, VA and were part of an identical twin pair (male or female) ages 40 through 70 years old to learn more about this study.

RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS SCREENER

X-ray image of two hands; one hand is grasping the other hand, which is highlighted red with pain

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a painful health condition that affects approximately 1.3 million people in the United States. Unfortunately, little is known about the causes of RA so researchers from New York University’s Hospital for Joint Disease have teamed with the MATR in hopes of learning more about RA, its causes and progression. To date, very few twin studies have been completed to investigate why some develop this oftentimes debilitating condition. Twin studies are helpful when looking at health conditions because they frequently help shed light on the gene--environment interactions that play a role in disease expression and progression. This study is particularly interested in the influence the intestinal microbiome may be playing on the development of RA (as well as other autoimmune disorders, such as psoriatic arthritis). We hope to soon be actively recruiting for this study again and will update details at that time.

Thank you to those who have already participated in the RA Screeners as well as those that have gone on to complete the study itself!

THE GENETICS & EPIGENETICS* OF HEALTHY AGING IN TWINS

Have you ever wondered why some individuals seem to feel and show the impact of aging more than others? Dr. Sangkyu Kim, a researcher at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA who studies aging, asked this same question and partnered with the MATR to see if MATR twins would be willing to participate in a study to help answer this question. Dr. Kim is particularly interested in studying the epigenetic differences between twins. Epigenetic factors regulate how our genes are expressed as traits and very likely play a role in our quality of aging. For example, some of the choices we make throughout life, regarding exercise, diet, substance use, etc, may play a role in turning on and off certain genes. Some of these genes may be “aging genes” or ones that influence age-related health conditions. If these types of genes are turned on or off too soon or too late by an epigenetic factor, then our quality of aging may be impacted.

The MATR recently completed recruitment efforts for this study and now the Principal Investigator and his team are starting the analysis phase of this research. For this study, the MATR invited same-sex twin pairs ages 65 or older to participate in the study. We were thrilled with the level of response and commitment demonstrated by our twins. Thank you very much to all those who are already part of the GHA study!

*If you want to know more about the fascinating topic of epigenetics, we recommend PBS’s NOVA Science Now episode on the topic - click here to access the video (the video clips can also be found on YouTube by searching Nova Science Now and Epigenetics). Though this video does not cover research conducted with MATR twins, it does reference a twin study, based out of Madrid, Spain, that investigates epigenetic changes in identical twins.

THE VAGINAL MICROBIOME: DISEASE, GENETICS, AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

(This study is part of the Human Microbiome Project (HMP))

Our bodies carry around trillions of microbes--bacteria, viruses, and other living things so tiny that we need a powerful microscope to see them. These microbes live in groups in many places on and inside our bodies, such as the skin, the mouth, nose, gut and (in women) the vagina. While we still don’t know how they do it, many of these microbes help to keep us healthy, while others contribute to disease. Similarly, changes in our health can affect our microbes. So can things like where we live or work, our age, ancestry, health status, and diet—and probably many other things that we don’t know about yet.

People and microbes both have DNA, the material that contains genetic instructions. The microbes’ DNA affects how they live with each other and how they act in our bodies. Our own DNA affects how we react to our microbes. All of the different kinds of microbes that live on and inside us, taken together, are called the “human microbiome.” The purpose of the HMP study is to learn about the human microbiome by studying the microbes’ DNA, other chemicals that the microbes produce, human DNA, and how microbes interact with each other and with their human host to contribute to health and disease.

In this particular study the researchers are focusing on the microbes that live in specific parts of the body: the mouth, vagina, and perianal region. They collected samples from these areas; some from people who have certain diseases as well as from people who did not. By comparing the microbes found in these two sets of samples, and by making the information that learned available to other research scientists, they hope to gradually begin to understand more about the complicated relationships between the microbes that live in these areas of the body and certain diseases.

The MATR invited identical and fraternal female twin pairs ages 18 and over to participate in this study. The VCU site of this study was one of the few with a twin component which means producing data that may provide better insight in the genetic and environmental factors influencing microbiome development.

IMPLICIT SUBSTANCE USE ATTITUDES ONLINE SURVEY FOR ADOLESCENT TWINS & NON-TWIN SIBLINGS

VCU Researchers, Drs. Neale and Verhulst developed an innovative online survey to help understand what influences adolescents in their decisions regarding substance use. The MATR contacted parents of juvenile twins that were between the ages of 12 and 17 years and invited their twins as well as any non-twin siblings of the same age range to participate in this online survey. The data from this survey was used to help test the survey method as well as to produce preliminary data that was used to determine feasibility of a larger survey effort. The researchers are using this information to develop proposals for grant funding applications.

GENES ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVE (GEDI)

The first phase for Drs. Eaves’ and Silberg’s "Genes, Environment and the Development of Substance Use" study is almost complete. This study is part of a multi-site project called the Genes, Environment and Development Initiative (GEDI) of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Participants from several study sites, including the MATR, have provided samples from which genetic material will be analyzed.

Investigators will conduct "genotyping" (determining the genetic make-up) of the samples they’ve received for their analysis. Through their analysis the researchers are hoping to determine which genes and/or combination of genes most likely play a role in whether or not an individual may develop substance use issues. There is also evidence to suggest that at different developmental periods (childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood) there are differing likelihoods that an individual might develop substance use issues. Keeping this in mind, ultimately the researchers hope to answer which genes, which environments, and which developmental transitions together predict the start and progression for which type of drug abuse an individual might be susceptible to. While this research will take several years to complete, in the end we hope to gain a better understanding regarding the development of substance use which in turn will allow scientist to investigate interventions and prevention programs that are most likely to be successful.

FACTORS IN HUMAN AGING (FHA) & CHILDHOOD ADVERSITY

The Factors in Human Aging study, conducted by Dr. Colleen Jackson-Cook of the Department of Pathology at Virginia Commonwealth University, studies how aging is effected by genes and environmental influences. As we age, a small number of our cells go through chromosomal changes. Chromosomes are the structures that contain our genetic information, known as DNA. The causes of these changes are not currently known but by studying DNA researchers are hoping to answer many questions about aging such as: Why do some people age faster than others? And can we identify factors that might slow down the aging process? Studying traits in twins is one of the best ways to gain insight into these questions, so the researchers are collecting DNA from nearly 500 twins to learn more about the aging process.

For this study twins fill out a health questionnaire and provide a blood sample by visiting their doctor’s office. Dr. Jackson-Cook then analyzes the survey responses and genetic samples looking for key factors that change as people age over time. There is also a related study being conducted with Dr. Timothy York looking at the impact childhood adversity, such as abuse, has on health (NOTE: the MATR is no longer recruiting for this study, but the study may still be in the process of requesting items from participants). Early results suggest that individuals that exposed to childhood adversity display more frequent chromosomal changes with age. This can even be seen in identical twins (who have nearly the same DNA) when one member of the twin pair was exposed to childhood abuse while the other twin was not, or if one twin was exposed to the abuse more heavily than her co-twin. There is also evidence to suggest that an individual’s childhood experiences may influence the types of chromosomal abnormalities that occur as a consequence of age. These chromosomal changes may impact the health-related outcomes of a person as they age.