International Congress on Twin Studies 2014

The 15th Congress of the International Society for Twin Studies (ISTS) will be held in Budapest, Hungary, from Sunday 16 November till Wednesday 19 November, 2014. This will be held in conjunction with the 3rd World Congress on Twin Pregnancy.

It will be a high profile programme, appealing to anyone interested in the field of research of multiple pregnancies, which comprises a broad spectrum of medical specialties interested to study twins as an evolutionary and epigenetic model and to understand the genesis of many pathologies, specially neurological and oncological.


What twins think about the Carb-digesting Gene

PenGenetics1“Carb- digesting obesity gene discovered!” screamed a recent media headline. It was in fact referring to a major breakthrough into the cause of obesity discovered here at the Department of Twin Research together with collaborators at Imperial College and Lille in France. Together, we found that obesity is related to the number of copies that people have of a gene coding for a carb-digesting enzyme called amylase. The findings, published in Nature Genetics , show for the first time that how well we digest carbs varies widely between us due to our genes and suggests that personalised dietary advice based on an individual’s genetic blueprint may be the way forward in the fight against obesity.

Professor Spector invited three pairs of twin volunteers who took part in the study to the department for a chat so that he could find out what they thought of these results. The twins were all fraternal (non identical), sharing 50% of their genes but sharing the same upbringing and home environment for their first 18 years. They were particularly interested in our results as each pair had a weight difference of at least 2 stone between them. Please read on to read Professor Spector’s account of their visit to the Department….

Frances and Linda, Michelle and Georgette, Margaret and Nora all jumped at the chance to talk to me about what the findings meant to them, not only as twins, but as research volunteers as well. They come from different backgrounds and parts of the UK – but their stories are quite similar. Their weight differences were mostly present from infancy – with one describing themselves as the ’tubby twin’, and the other the ‘skinny twin’. None of them could think of a reason why they had different weights from infancy. They all agreed that as kids their Mums’ had given them the exact same foods and portions – and one twin had just put on the pounds and the other hadn’t. None of them had any major illnesses, food allergies, preferences or medications to explain this.

The weight gaining twins all reported immense frustration that their twin could eat the same without any effects on their weight. In Linda’s words “I just had to look at food to put on weight”. Surprisingly, this difference in adult weight could have been even greater still, as the heavier twin tended to exercise more than the lighter twin, in order to try and lose weight.
The twins were all fascinated and excited by the findings of this research and agreed that it gave them another perspective from which to look at their weight differences. They did not reject the effects their diet and environment had on their weight completely, but they all agreed that a genetic difference such as our latest discovery could go a long way to explain their weight differences. The twins remarked that what their children and husbands ate affected their weight in terms of having fussy or big eaters or vegetarians in the family.

The twins were asked whether they would take a genetic test, if it became available on the NHS, to find out whether they were predisposed to putting on weight. All of them agreed that it would be generally useful, although Margaret wasn’t so sure. Frances thought that the twins with the smaller copy numbers (with greater risk of putting on weight) could feel “fed up and frustrated” by this genetic lottery. She thought the individual could use it as an excuse not to make any effort to lose weight and blame it on their genes. Michelle disagreed, “knowledge is always worthwhile” to which her sister Georgette added that “genes can be a reason but not an excuse”. The group agreed that the genetic information could have the positive effect of helping them to focus on adopting a healthier diet and therefore achieve a bigger weight loss. Michelle and Georgette explained how, in their case, the twin that had less of a weight problem when young ended up gaining more weight than her sister as she never felt the need to control her food intake. They thought that this suggests that these genetic tests should only be given to individuals with a weight problem; otherwise a negative test could provide a false feeling of security. Michelle and Georgette’s story was a nice illustration of how we do not need to be slaves to our genes but we can, by our actions, reverse the natural tendencies of our bodies.

It was generally thought by both the twins and the researchers that personalised genetic testing for weight could be very helpful if it was clinically shown that avoiding or reducing particular food types helped to improve metabolism and weight.

Current research also shows that our gut bacteria can affect our tendency to gain weight and I explained how I thought it may be influenced by this ’carb-digesting gene’. I posed some delicate questions about whether they would be prepared to receive a faecal transplant from their healthier twin, if it was found that it could improve their metabolism through receiving a ‘healthier population of bacteria’. Two out of three pairs said they would consider it, and the third said only if she had some more major health problems.

As we wrapped up – I offered everyone some biscuits or fruit before they left. I was the only one to have a biscuit and a couple took the bananas – which I (annoyingly) explained was a genetically modified sterile fruit with more sugar in them than the biscuits!

It seems everyone these days is interested in what we should eat. Hopefully using our ever-useful TwinsUK registry, we can find more gene variants that determine how we metabolise a whole variety of foods that determine our individual weights. Who knows, the next gene we discover could determine whether we can stay slim while eating six bananas daily and a carb only diet!……

CLICK HERE for a press release by King’s College London

Boston Hall of Human Life

Tim Spector gives a lecture on how we can change our genes  at the official launch of the Museum of Science, Boston Hall of Human Life which aims to revolutionize how people understand their own biology and manage their health.

You can watch the video here….

Salon London Transmission Prize 2013

Professor Spector has been nominated to the Salon London Transmission Prize 2013. This prize aims to celebrate those personalities from the world of art, science and psychology that have exceeded at disseminating new and innovative ideas in an engaging manner.

Salon London’s Transmission Prize recognizes the value of ideas and the work that speakers do to get them to an audience.

More info can be found HERE.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, Tim Spector combines his scientific knowledge and research to answer this question, and many more, in his new book.

Tim Spector argues that we are not just skin and bones controlled by genes but minds and bodies made of plastic, and this plastic is dynamic, slowly changing shape and evolving, and nothing is completely genetically hard-wired or pre-ordained.

Click Here to listen to a radio broadcast Tim made whilst on a recent visit to Australia.

Barcelona Triathlon 2013

CDRF-Logo2Congratulations to Professor Tim Spector for completing the Barcelona Triathlon – a great achievement, and for fundraising for the Chronic Disease Research Foundation which was set up to look at new ways of exploring the genetics of diseases associated with ageing. The CDRF generously supports a number of the research projects at the Department of Twin Research.

Tim_Garmin1On 6th October 2013, Professor Spector took part in the Barcelona Triathlon and successfully completed an impressive 20K bike ride, then a 5K run followed by a 750 metre swim! Please support his efforts and our research by donating to the CDRF at
(please see below for ways to sponsor by cheque).

The CDRF is raising money on our behalf to go towards a much needed new DEXA machine (which measures bone density) so that we can further our important work in early detection of osteoporosis, obesity and healthy ageing. Osteoporosis is a growing healthcare crisis affecting millions of women and men worldwide. The healthcare costs associated with osteoporosis are staggering.  Whilst porous bones and fractures may not be visible from the outside, the effects can be life threatening and often people do not know that they have osteoporosis until it’s too late.  Early detection by having a DEXA bone density scan and early treatment can make a huge difference to a person’s future well-being.

Raising enough money to purchase a state of the art new bone density scanning machine will OsteoporosisXraynot only provide the DTR with high definition digital quality images useful for research, but will also measure whole body distribution of fat. This information can be translated into easily interpreted clinical reports that can be used by the NHS for weight management and counselling. We are looking forward to being able to share the benefits of this DEXA machine and the reports with our volunteers.

You can also make a donation in honour of Prof Spector’s efforts by making cheques payable to the “Chronic Disease Research Foundation”. Please attach a note to the cheque specifying “TwinsUK DEXA Machine  – triathlon” and post to Christel Barnetson Department of Twin Research, St Thomas’ Hospital, 3rd Floor, South Wing, Block D, Westminster Bridge Road, LONDON, SE1 7EH




Science Weekly

The science of epigenetics.

As well as discussing the badger cull in the UK and geo-engineering, this show reports from the British Science Festival in Newcastle where the inaugural Huxley debate took place. Alok Jha interviews the protagonists, Prof Gambling Tim Spector and Prof George Davey Smyth, who debate the emerging study of epigenetics – changes in gene expression during one generation that may be inherited by the next. Has the whole field been overblown?

You can listen to the show by clicking here. Listen from the 24th minute onwards for the debate.

The Debate (Institute of Art and Ideas)

Conflict rages between those who believe that gender is socially  constructed and those who argue that it is biologically determined. But  now geneticists propose that we can change our sexual characteristics  through lifestyle choices. Is this misguided hype, or the promise of a  brave new world?

The Panel:

Biologist and author of Identically Different: Why You Can Change Your Genes Tim Spector, Darwinist philosopher Helena Cronin and New Humanist’s Caspar Melville assess the science of sexuality.

See the video below for an interesting discussion…..

TwinsUK on BBC Horizon

TwinsUK on BBC Horizon

The Horizon programme on BBC TWO ran a feature called “The Truth About Personality” on the 10th July 2013.

This programme in which Michael Mosley explored the latest science about how our personalities are created and whether they can be changed included a section on the Department of Twin Research.

Don”t worry if you missed it. You can watch it on the BBC iPlayer. More information can be found here.

TwinsUK part of the NIHR BioResource

TwinsUK has been offered a great opportunity to be integrated into the BioResource. This is a government initiative funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).www.atoledo.comThe NIHR BioResource brings together the efforts of several excellent Biomedical Research Centres across the UK to generate a register of thousands of volunteers, both with and without health problems, who are willing to be approached to participate in research studies investigating the links between genes, the environment, health and disease.

To find out more you can view the video here.

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