We thought our participants might be interested in “being introduced” to some of the researchers we collaborate with so over the coming months we will feature a few of them on this page. Each of these researchers is passionate about and committed to the ultimate outcome of improving human health and our understanding of human behavior.
DR. THOMAS MACK
We are pleased to start a collaboration, looking into breast cancer risk factors, with Dr. Thomas Mack—Professor of Preventive Medicine & Pathology at the University of Southern California. This partnership represents a full circle in Dr. Mack’s career. A career, which spans impressive medical training at Columbia University, the Centers for Disease Control, and Harvard; and, includes work on smallpox eradication, certain cancers, and Hodgkin’s disease. Much of Dr. Mack’s research, including his current work incorporating the MATR, has its footing in a chance meeting from a couple of decades ago. While serving on a National Institutes of Health committee evaluating grants, he happened to be seated next to Dr. Walter Nance. Many of our longtime MATR members will remember Dr. Nance because his work in pediatric twin studies at VCU helped lay the foundation for the Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry. Through their discussions about twin research, Dr. Mack saw the exciting potential for helping to overcome some of the challenges he faced in studying chronic disease. He realized that adult twin subjects could help him sort out the genetic, cultural, and lifestyle factors that all play an influencing role in the development of chronic diseases, like cancer. From that happenstance meeting, Dr. Mack went on to establish twin studies and registries that have helped solidify our understanding of certain chronic diseases. For example, twin participation in his research has helped his team learn that Hodgkin’s lymphoma has a strong heritable component and shares features with autoimmune diseases; that childhood exposure to sunlight (thus Vitamin D) seems to help protect against multiple sclerosis; and, that both genes and environment play a role in the development of malignant melanoma. Now Dr. Mack is seeking continued help from twins on his search for a clearer understanding of just how the factors that influence breast cancer risk (genes, environment, lifestyle choices, etc.) impact the likelihood of breast cancer development. As you can tell from just a few highlights of his impressive career, Dr. Mack is passionate about improving health outcomes. Both he and the MATR hope that MATR twins that are eligible for the study are equally passionate in supporting these efforts.
DR. JAMES M. BJORK
“As a parent of 10-year-old and 12-year old boys, the ABCD project has special meaning to me. What will their adolescence be like? How will their experiences shape their brains, and vice versa? The ABCD project is a very special initiative that holds potential to detect unprecedented connections between brain, behavior, and environment during human adolescence. I feel privileged to be part of such a magnificent team of investigators across the nation, from Hawaii to Florida, to Vermont, who have worked arduously and collegially to come up with a set of tests that offers the most scientific value at the minimum possible burden to children and parents. The team of research staff here at VCU is skilled and eager to work with children and families from Virginia and neighboring states. Particularly special and scientifically valuable is our invitation to families with twins. I am excited too about the cutting-edge technology brought to bear in VCU’s Collaborative Advanced Research Imaging (CARI) MRI scanner, with its crystal-clear glimpses of brain structure and function. It is my hope to reach out to every family to express my gratitude for their participation. It is a leap of faith to offer to take part in something so enduring and so grand. It holds potential to change young lives for decades to come.”
James M. Bjork, PhD
Department of Psychiatry
DR. ROXANN ROBERSON-NAY
I have always been interested in the psychological health of young people. Childhood through young adulthood are such rapid phases of maturation and development and thus are time points in which young individuals’ mental health are particularly vulnerable. My current research focus is on learning more about what impacts the development of anxiety and depression (internalizing disorders) in teens and young adults. It is my hope that my current study, the Adolescent and Young Adult Twin Study (AYATS) will help further understanding on this topic.
Thus far, my study team and I have been very pleased with the participation of twins and their families in this research. I am excited to share with you the progress AYATS has made, which is now in its third year. Our study is one of the largest studies examining environmental and genetic contributions to the risk of developing an internalizing disorder in adolescents and young adults. We are continuing to schedule participants to reach our projected goal of 450 twin pairs by September 2016. We also are starting Wave 2 data collection in March 2016, which we hope to finish in about two years. We are starting to analyze the remarkable data that we have collected from our twins so far and we will share our findings with the scientific and clinical communities in the very near future. It is our hope that the AYATS data will yield new insights into the causes of internalizing disorders and lead to the development of new, more effective treatments and prevention strategies. The generosity of each family’s time in participating in this important research is very valued and appreciated. The AYATS research team looks forward to future opportunities to work with you and your twins as they develop through their teenage and young adult years into adulthood. Again, a heart-felt thanks to all the parents and twins who have given their time and effort to this very important mission!
Roxann Roberson-Nay, PhD
Dept of Psychiatry & Dept of Psychology
DR. JOHN HETTEMA - PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR (PI) FOR THE JUVENILE ANXIETY STUDY
"I am so excited to share with you the progress the Juvenile Anxiety Study (JAS) has made, now in its fourth and final year. This study is one of the first large, NIH-funded juvenile twin studies at VCU since the 1990’s, it represents a revival of interest of the scientific community in this approach to genetics research. We continue to schedule participants to reach our projected goal of 400 plus twin pairs by spring of 2016, with the hopes of wrapping up the initial phase of the study at that time. We will soon be analyzing and publishing the wealth of data generously provided through your family’s participation. It is my hope that the JAS data will yield new insights into the causes of internalizing disorders and lead to the development of new, more effective treatments and prevention strategies. The generosity of each family’s time in participating in this important research is very much appreciated. I look forward to future opportunities to work with you and your twins as they develop through their teenage years. Thank you!”
Jack Hettema, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry