New leader named for comprehensive study of area health

Dr. Kristin Newby, principal investigator for the Murdock Study.
Dr. Kristin Newby, principal investigator for the Murdock Study. COURTESY OF THE MURDOCK STUDY

One of the early architects of the Murdock Study will now lead the 8-year-old community health project into the next phase of research. Murdock stands for the Measurement to Understand the Reclassification of Disease of Cabarrus/Kannapolis.

Dr. Kristin Newby, a Duke University cardiologist, was named this month as principal investigator for the study.

For research into chronic diseases, the study uses health data collected by more than 11,000 participants who live or work within Cabarrus County.

Newby replaces former lead scientist Dr. Rob Califf, who left the position to become deputy commissioner of Medical Products and Tobacco at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

No stranger to the Murdock Study, Newby played a part in early discussions that helped determined the role Duke University would play on the North Carolina Research Campus.

Those discussions led to the launch of the Duke-run Murdock Study, which conducts research into chronic diseases like multiple sclerosis and cardiovascular disease with the aid of blood and urine samples from its participants.

With around 11,300 registered individuals, the study has reached a little over one-fifth of its goal to include 50,000 participants.

Through the years, Newby has met many of those participants, often shaking hands and thanking them at the churches, fire stations and schools where mass enrollment drives are held.

“We go to meet them where they are, to make it easy for them,” she said. “It’s a terrific commitment of their time, their data and their blood samples.”

Those biological samples, she hopes, will someday change the way diseases are treated.

“I would like to think that 10 years from now we really are actually generating information that will help bring us to this concept of precision medicine,” said Newby.

With precision medicine, doctors prescribe a targeted treatment for a patient based on how the disease presents itself.

Many scientists believe a person’s genetic, molecular, clinical, social and environmental factors determine how a disease manifests in the body. Specific treatment regimens work better in some people than others, depending on those traits.

“For example, we don’t think all diabetes is the same, and there may be people who benefit more from an aggressive exercise program and a certain type of diet, whereas other people benefit more from a drug, plus a given type of diet,” said Newby.

Now a few years into collecting blood and urine samples from participants, scientists are beginning to have enough data to dig deeper into their research.

At a recent session to update the community on the study’s research, Newby spoke of advances in their understanding of multiple sclerosis and their hunt for the predictors that lead to Alzheimer’s disease – both research interests within the Murdock Study.

Scientists outside the study are using the data collected as well, for research into lung disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Parkinson’s disease.

For Newby, this next phase of the study is just the beginning of what could be endless possibilities for research into human health.

“We are very hopeful that this will continue for years and years, and that there will be interest generation after generation in joining the study and keeping it going,” she said.

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at

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