Doctors at the General Hospital in the Greek city of Larissa said yesterday, Thursday, that they had successfully removed an embryonic parasitic twin from the stomach of a 9-year-old girl.

The girl, whose family asked that she not be named, was suffering from stomach pains, which the doctors established were due to a tumour growing on the right side of her belly. She has since made a full recovery, said the hospital authorities.

Larissa General Hospital’s director, Lakovos Brouskelis told the press:

“They could see on the right side that her belly was swollen, but they couldn’t suspect that this tumor would hide an embryo.”

On closer examination the doctors found that the growth concealed an embryo six centimeters (about two inches) long, fully formed with a head, hair and eyes but no brain and no umbilical cord, reported the Associated Press.

A parasitic twin results from the same biological process that produces conjoined twins and vanishing twins (where one twin “disappears” early in the pregnancy). The twin embryo grows in the uterus but it does not fully separate into two individuals: one stops developing and becomes “vestigial” inside the other fully formed and usually quite healthy twin.

The chance of developing a parasitic twin is very rare, and occurs in around one in 500,000 births. There have only been about 90 such recorded cases in the world.

Last year, Filipino television aired a programme about a Eljie Millapes, a baby girl whose parents were alarmed at how big her stomach was growing when she was two months old. Doctors later found she had a “fetus in fetu” lodged inside, which is a special type of parasitic twin that contiues to grow like a tumor, but it is still parasitic in that it is fully dependent on the “host” twin for its blood supply.

Perhaps the most famous case of fetus in fetu is that of 7-year-old Alamjan Nematilaev in Kazakhstan in 2003. A school doctor noticed the boy’s enlarged stomach was showing movement inside, and referred him to a hospital where they removed what they thought was a cyst only to find a highly developed identical twin brother with hair, fingers, nails, genitals, limbs, head and almost a face.

Click here for more information on “parasitic twins” (wikipedia).

For a fuller layman’s account of the genetics and biology of embryo development read “The Boy Who Gave Birth to His Twin”, by Dr Martin Brookes, (, Dec 03)

Source: Associated Press, GMA News, Agence France-Presse, wikipedia.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD