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Cancer tests the bonds of identical twin brothers

21 May 2012

Identical twin brothers, Craig and Brenton Gurney, were inseparable as little boys and have remained very close into their adult lives.

So close are the two, they have experienced a telepathic connection that seems common amongst many identical twins. When Brenton injured his shoulder, for example, Craig felt the pain too although he was in another state and knew nothing of his twin’s plight.

It was their close bond that saved Craig’s life.

Brenton, who was concerned about headaches he’d been having, got his brother to join him in a twins study at the Westmead Millennium Institute, the University of Sydney, because the study included an MRI scan.

His scan came up clear. But when his brother underwent the scan, a brain tumour showed up.

Craig underwent a complex ten-and-half-hour operation at Sydney’s Westmead Private Hospital to remove a nearly five centimetre tumour.

The twins say Craig’s illness has reinforced to them the importance of giving back to the community.

“I thought I was participating in a research study as a way of helping others but, as it turned out, it probably saved my life,” says Craig.

The Australian Twin Registry brings twins and researchers together to undertake medical research to benefit the health not only of twins but of all Australians, says Professor John Hopper, director of the Australian Twin Registry.

“Twins can help find cures faster by helping researchers to better understand genetic and environmental causes in many diseases.”

Craig and Brenton’s mum registered the twins with the ATR when they were just babies. Since then, they have participated in many twin studies, the most recent being The Emotional Wellbeing Project at the Brain Dynamics Centre at the Westmead Millennium Institute where Craig’s tumour was first detected.

By comparing over 1500 identical and non-identical twins, the study aims to identify the gene, stress and brain markers that predict emotional resilience and wellbeing over time. By examining healthy twins, researchers are hoping to better understand those factors that may protect someone from becoming mentally ill, even if they have been exposed to some risk factors.

Craig and Brenton urge twins to become involved in the registry and twin studies.

“As twins, we have something special that we can use to help others. You could potentially save a life – and it may be your own – by becoming involved,” says Craig.