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Avera Launches Twin DNA Register

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Kealey Bultena
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SDPB
Erin Doherty and Austin Van Asselt scan samples into the computer system ahead of DNA extraction.

Avera is launching the first South Dakota-based study to track twins. The health organization’s Institute for Human Genetics has partnered with the world’s leading twin registry out of the Netherlands for seven years. Now the Avera Twin Register will collect and analyze DNA from twins.

Doctor Dave Kapaska is the regional president and CEO of Avera McKennan in Sioux Falls. He highlights how people are fascinated by multiples as he introduces two Avera physicians who are twins and mixes them up in the process.

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Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
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SDPB
Dr. Dave Kapaska introduces two sets of twins. / May 18, 2016

In Kapaska’s defense, Dr. Jennifer McKay and Dr. Kimberlee McKay are identical, and they’re both in black suits. Kapaska says, on a serious note, studying twins can reveal vital information about health, lifestyle and disease.

Gareth Davies is chief scientific officer at the Avera Institute for Human Genetics. He says twin studies indicate whether biological makeup or environmental factors contribute to diseases.

"Identical twins share 100 percent of their DNA, or pretty much so, and fraternals share 50 percent, and they’re like siblings," Davies says. "And it’s important to study both of these – both identical and non-identical or dizygotic and monozygotic – because we can determine the percentage that genetics and the environment play."

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Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
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SDPB
Gareth Davies, Chief Scientific Officer at Avera Institute for Human Genetics

Davies says twin studies can also help scientists understand whether genetics affect lifestyle or the other way around. He says the information collected in Sioux Falls can provide insight into traits and diseases specific to the region.

"We can ask questions such as, ‘Why does one twin develop Type II diabetes? Why does one twin show signs of developing Alzheimer’s disease? Why does one twin gain weight, one twin doesn’t?’" Davies says.

The Avera Twin Register is open to twins and multiples of all ages who live in South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota. Participants fill out a questionnaire and provide a DNA sample from a cheek swab. To find out how to enroll, visit this link.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).
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