Murdock health study expands reach

Lake Norman residents can participate in a long-term health study aimed at understanding how and why people develop diseases.

The Murdock Study of the Duke Translational Medicine Institute recently partnered with the Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson to recruit new participants for its study.

Billionaire Dole Food owner David Murdock gave a $35 million gift in 2007 to launch the Murdock Study at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis.

One caveat of the gift was that researchers use local volunteers - making it a study about health in the Charlotte region.

The long-term study's goal is to build a bank of biological samples, including urine and blood, from 50,000 people.

The samples will then be compared with the volunteers' medical history, demographics and other variables. Researchers then follow up with volunteers every year for an indefinite period of time.

"Ideally we would follow them throughout the course of their lifetime," said project leader Ashley Dunham. "I don't want to be morbid about it, but we want to see what eventually is their cause of death?"

But funding may limit how long exactly the Murdock study will last, she said.

Volunteers can withdraw from the study at any time.

"We're monitoring the health of the people in order to potentially come up with solutions and explanations about why certain people develop diseases and certain people don't," said Dunham.

Beginning in 2009, the study began recruiting residents 18 years and older in certain ZIP codes in north Mecklenburg County and Cabarrus County.

Researchers have recruited about 7,000 residents thus far.

Dunham said it may take between 10 to 20 years to register 50,000 participants.

Julie Elliott, a community health nurse at the Ada Jenkins Center, said the partnership is mutually beneficial.

"It's a way to let the rest of the community come by and see what the Ada Jenkins Center is," she said. "Plus, the whole community benefits from research."

Among other services, the Ada Jenkins Center provides crisis assistance, medical and dental care and youth education.

Researchers from the Murdock study will be at the Ada Jenkins Center from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday and Friday indefinitely, said Elliott.

Dunham said she is excited about the partnership, which she hopes will help the study recruit a more representative sample of the population.

As long as it's mutually beneficial, the study will remain there, said Dunham.

"The mission of the center is really to improve health and education," she said.