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Published on May 18, 2016

Avera Launches South Dakota’s First Twin Register and Expanded Netherlands Partnership

SIOUX FALLS – Avera and Avera Institute for Human Genetics announce a new formal international partnership with the Netherlands Twin Register at Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam.

Avera and VU have collaborated for a number of years, as the Avera Institute for Human Genetics (AIHG) has provided DNA sequencing and analysis for the Netherlands Twin Register – one of the world’s premier twin studies and databases. This formal international partnership will expand the scientific collaboration between Avera and VU.

Avera also announces the launch of the first and only twin register in South Dakota, the Avera Twin Register, as a result of its experience and association with the Netherlands study.

“Avera scientists are working with other top scientists to transform the future of science, and the future of medicine,” said Fred Slunecka, Chief Operating Officer for Avera Health.

The power of twins research is unparalleled when it comes to learning how much of a certain trait or disease is related to genetics and how much of it is related to environment – the age-old nature-versus-nurture debate.

By collecting and analyzing the DNA of twins – with a simple cheek swab – Avera researchers will have the unique opportunity to learn how environment (lifestyle, diet, relationships, etc.) and genetics impact the development of certain traits and diseases.

“We look at twins because they have nearly identical DNA. Why does one twin get a disease and the other doesn’t? That’s what we are studying. We look at both the genetics and environmental influences on diseases such as type 1 diabetes, behavioral disorders and cardiovascular disease,” said Gareth Davies, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer and Scientific Director at the Avera Institute for Human Genetics.

Through its research, the Avera Twin Register hopes to gain understanding of how genes influence human traits and diseases, which may allow for more accurate diagnosis, the development of better treatments and possibly the prevention of diseases. With the launch of the Avera Twin Register, the AIHG can now collect and analyze DNA from twins throughout the Midwest to provide insight about traits and diseases that are specific to the region.

“Genetic research provides the foundation for the future of medicine and we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of the potential that is waiting to be discovered” says Dave Kapaska, DO, President and CEO of Avera McKennan Hospital & University Center. “We’re excited to see what we’ll learn through the Avera Twin Register and how it will benefit the health and well-being of generations to come.”

The Avera Twin Register is a division of the Avera Institute for Human Genetics, which has a history of excellence in innovative genetics research. Since 2009, the AIHG has partnered with the world’s leading twin register, the Netherlands Twin Register, to collect and analyze over 80,000 DNA samples.  Along with the twin studies, Avera and VU will be working on several scientific collaborative projects, including the exchange of staff between Avera and VU, a joint PhD program, large-scale genotyping of the twins collection, deep sequencing and phenotyping of thousands of twin pairs, and the creation of an Avera/VU bioinformatics team. The Avera Institute for Human Genetics will continue to serve as the genetics lab for all genotyping for the Netherlands Twin Register and future genetics research in partnership with VU.

“In genetics, collaboration is the norm. Each population doesn’t have the cohorts and resources to achieve the next breakthrough, so we need to work together and I’m excited to do that with Avera,” said Dr. Dorret Boomsma, internationally recognized scientist in twin and genetic studies of behavior, health and psychopathology at VU and founder of the Netherlands Twin Register.

All identical or fraternal twins, triplets and multiples and their immediate family members are invited to sign up for the Avera Twin Register.  Enrollment is free and includes genetic testing to determine if twins are identical or fraternal.

To sign up and learn more, visit

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