New international research partnership to develop large twin registry

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Posted on 21 June 2018

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has funded a £200,000 research partnership which will establish a register of infant, child, and adolescent twins in Sri Lanka. The register will create a foundation for future research into mental illness within low and middle-income countries. 

Twins provide a valuable source of information for health and psychological research. By studying both non-identical and identical twins, it allows researchers to examine the role of genetics and environmental factors in the development of a trait or disorder. 

The Institute for Research and Development, Sri Lanka, have already established a register of adult twins in partnership with Kings College London. The register is the oldest and largest for low and middle-income countries and was successfully used in a longitudinal study, producing two waves of successful data collection.  

By bringing together world-leading experts for across the globe, this partnership intends to form a register of infant, child, and adolescent twins, as well as mother's pregnant with twins, in two districts of Sri Lanka. This register can be used in conjunction with the adult register, and may even provide some data links through parentage. 

By using both twin registers, researchers intend to explore the causes of mental illness within low and middle-income countries and gain a better understanding of how genetic and environmental factors have contributed to the origin of the disorder. 

Lead research and Professor of Psychiatry at Keele University, Athula Sumathipala, explained: "The MRC has funded this partnership for a year, where we not only hope to develop the twin registry but also form two research proposals. These proposals will be guided by gaps in research, the data collected throughout the year, and discussions with patients and the public."

"Underpinned by three core pillars, the partnership will develop high quality (i) research (ii) ethics (iii) patient and public involvement and engagement." 

"Evidence from the UK has shown that the quality of research, the likelihood of successful recruitment, and the implementation of findings, is improved when patients and the public are involved in research. This notion of patient involvement is relatively novel in South Asia though, and we hope to tackle this by utilising our collaboration with UK institutions, and engage with lay twins and their patients." 

"Our over-arching long-term goal for this partnership is to establish a virtual centre of excellence for cohort studies, which will increase the amount of research that will eventually influence health and social care in lower and middle-income countries." 

The partnership brings together researchers from Keele University (UK), The Institute for Research and Development (Sri Lanka), King's College London (UK), Deakin University (Australia), University of Bristol (UK), Murdoch's Research Institute (Australia), the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine (Sri Lanka), All India Institute of Medical Sciences (India), Independent University of Bangladesh (Bangladesh), and Health Services Academy Islamabad (Pakistan). 

To find out more about using twins in research, and why more twin databases are needed in the developing world, listen to the latest podcast on The Conversation, which features Professor Athula Sumathipala.