Dorret Boomsma is a leading scientist in twin and genetic studies of behavior, health and psychopathology. Studies in Dutch twins revealed for example that ADHD in children is a genetic disorder, that is not the “fault” of the parents. The work of her research group has provided a wealth of information on how genes influences health and behaviour.
As with every success story, there’s a measure of luck involved. For example, the fact that the focus of her research – twins – intrigues almost everyone. Not to mention the general fascination with intelligence, depression and susceptibility to addiction and the question of how genetic they these traits are. Another stroke of good fortune presented itself once she had completed her PhD research on cardiovascular risk factors in twin families in Amsterdam and decided that a larger scale twin register would be useful. As it turned out, her supervising professor lived next door to the CEO of a prominent marketing company that visits families when a baby is born. The researchers included their brochure in the company’s package, inviting parents to sign up their newborn twins to the register. In addition, a diligent graduate student asked municipal authorities whether the researchers would be allowed to approach twins in their area. In 1987, these initiatives led to the founding of the Netherlands Twin Register (NTR). Now, 25 years on, this database contains over 87,000 twins and multiple births and is famous around the world. In total, including multiples and their families, the NTR contains the details of almost 178,000 people. Each year, they complete a number of questionnaires about their behaviour and health.