The public, along with participants of Duke University’s Murdock Study, met with doctors and scientists Feb. 19 to learn about the latest research being conducted on North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.
Duke launched the Murdock Study in 2007 with a $35 million gift from David Murdock, founder and developer of the research campus. The study’s name stands for Measurement to Understand the Reclassification of Disease Of Cabarrus/Kannapolis.
The study tracks the health changes among a large segment of the population throughout Cabarrus and surrounding counties over several years. More than 11,200 participants provide health and personal information annually, as well as a one-time donation of blood and urine.
Duke wants to enroll 50,000 people in the study.
Researchers say the information and biological samples they gather will help them reclassify diseases. Ultimately, the goal is to find ways to treat and defeat some of today’s leading causes of illness and death, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Leah Boulter Bouk, 31, is the clinical trials project leader and oversees clinical operations for the study. The study would not be possible, she said, without the continued participation of thousands of community of volunteers.
“The idea behind Thursday’s event was to bring together the stakeholders who contribute to our community research study,” Bouk said. “It was about creating an environment for transparency and translation between the science and those who have provided their … health information in hopes that it will one day help someone else.”
The Feb. 19 event included information about other studies and drew about 100 people.
Dr. Kristin Newby, 52, is the principal investigator behind the Murdock Study. Also a professor in the cardiology division at the Duke University Medical Center, she oversees the biological samples stored in the community registry and biorepository.
The study has just started to mature, and clinical data and biological samples are beginning to help scientists better understand common diseases, Newby said. But eventually, their efforts will help with future wide-scale research.
“DNA from 19 people over the age of 100 years have been analyzed and are contributing information that will help researchers begin to unravel the secrets of longevity,” Newby said. “Over the next five years, we expect to increase our focus on studies of nutrition and the effects on health and illness of various components in food and of diet and exercise, in general.”
In 10 years, Newby expects their research “will have made major contributions to understanding the fundamental underpinnings … of health and disease that will … contribute to discovery and development of new treatments.”
This study also brings a promise of “precision medicine,” which would allow scientists and doctors to use a person’s genetic, clinical, social and environmental characteristics to tailor prevention and treatment strategies, Newby said.
Gerry Fenner, 61, of Kannapolis got involved with the study in part because of her own experiences with sickness and disease. “I wanted to know more about the many diseases plaguing the nation,” she said, “and why are there so many people diagnosed with the same diseases.”
Fenner, who believes this type of research is desperately needed, said getting involved was easy. She encourages everyone to do so for the greater good.
“At my age, it is my hope and dream that research will change the course of sicknesses and diseases … and enable the generations behind me to live a more vibrant, long, productive life,” Fenner said. “As a whole, we stay so far behind because we don’t get involved. How can the future belong to us if we don’t prepare for it and get involved? Being part of the study is very rewarding for me.”
Jim Pridgen of Concord and his wife got involved because of the possibility to help an entire generation.
“We were an early adopter of the first Murdock Study, as we clearly saw and understood the value of our involvement,” Pridgen said. “We looked at the first study as a 21st century Framingham (Heart) Study, and wanted to make a difference by participating.”
Pridgen described the process of getting involved as effortless. The Murdock team also provides educational seminars that give people a closer look.
“At no time have I felt uneasy about any aspect of the initial enrollment nor any subsequent contact,” he said. “ … I would encourage everyone to … take that first step towards being part of a team effort to either rid this planet of some dastardly diseases or at least mitigate them.”
Want to get involved?
Adults living in 20 ZIP codes – including Cabarrus County, Kannapolis, China Grove, Landis and portions of Rowan, Mecklenburg and Stanly counties – can enroll. Some substudies, like the multiple sclerosis study, do not have geographic restrictions. Details: 704-250-5861 or www.murdock-study.org.