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VCU Launches COVID-19 Study in Twins

Virginia Commonwealth University is launching the first-ever study of the effects of COVID-19 on twins.

The Twin 360 project was launched in late August. Judy Silberg, an associate professor in the VCU School of Medicine's Department of Human and Molecular Genetics, said studying pairs of identical twins could bring some answers in overall research of COVID-19, and possible treatments.

“Now, the power of that design is that because the genes are the same in the individuals, the mz (identical, or monozygotic) twins, any difference, any discordance, has to be environmental," she said. "Not confounded by any genetic effect.”

Fraternal twins (or dizygotic twins) share only about 50% of genes. So Silberg says if a pair has the same COVID symptoms as two identical twins, genes aren’t playing a role in these cases.

"If there is an environmental component, we will seek to characterize the nature of these environmental stressors that potentiate why some people have chronic COVID symptoms, and others don't," she said.

The co-lead on the project is Dr. Gerard Moeller, director of the VCU C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research.

Silberg said the Twin 360 Project is also looking at the stress brought on by COVID-19.

“We know there’s been a lot of associations with mental health issues as a function of the pandemic – like alcohol, depression, anxiety, PTSD – some terrible things - that’s part of the survey as well," she said.

Silberg says all VCU survey results are confidential, and hopes to finish the work by December.

She’s also the scientific director of the Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry. The largest twin registry in the country, it’s encouraging all twins to sign up, but is especially interested now in learning from those who have suffered lasting effects from COVID-19.

Jeff Bossert is Radio IQ's Morning Edition host.