When the MURDOCK Study launched in 2007, the impact was described in terms of future contributions to the understanding and treatment of some of the most chronic and debilitating diseases like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
In just a few years, the MURDOCK Study has gone from talking about potential contributions to making scientific discoveries that are enabling a better understanding and treatment of diseases.
The MURDOCK Study – Measurement to Understand the Reclassification of Disease Of Cabarrus/ Kannapolis – is a multi-tiered, longitudinal health study locally based in Kannapolis at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC). The study falls under the Duke Translational Medicine Institute (DTMI) and is funded by an initial gift of $35 million from David H. Murdock, founder of the NCRC, chairman of Dole Foods, Inc. and owner of Castle and Cooke, Inc. The MURDOCK Study is building a community registry of the local residents of Kannapolis and Cabarrus County and the surrounding region who are age 18 and older.
Enrolling in the MURDOCK Study’s community registry involves donating biological samples of blood and urine for storage in the LabCorp-Kannapolis Biorepository. The samples are cross-referenced with participants’ medical history, demographics and other data. The samples, when approved by the MURDOCK Leadership Committee, are used by Duke researchers and partners to identify novel biomarkers. By tapping into such valuable assets, Duke investigators and physician-scientists are working to characterize disease risk factors and change the understanding of diseases and treatment outcomes.
“It’s the only study I’m aware of that is looking at a general population and trying to statistically cover all aspects of the population by looking at things in a genomic and proteomic way,” said Robert Kinney, MD, a pathologist, vice president of education for Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast (CMC-NE) and a member of the MURDOCK Study Healthcare Advisory Board.
In Horizon 1, the first phase of the MURDOCK Study, Duke investigators used existing patient cohorts already in their reach to aggregate samples and clinical data for the purposes of discovering signatures of sub-classes of disease risk and response to treatment. Genomic, proteomic and metabolomic technological platforms at both Duke University and the NCRC were applied and results from this work have added to an improved understanding of the progression and treatment of hepatitis C, heart disease, obesity and osteoarthritis.
“The value is to find ways to predict disease earlier and treat disease earlier. I am aware that they found some interesting information about the response of patients with hepatitis C to the various therapies and have been able to predict responses,” Kinney said. “I understand that they have found markers that predict those who are going to get arthritis before these people actually have the pain of arthritis. So, one day, there may be a way to find these individuals and intervene sooner [thereby] preventing long-term complications resulting in knee replacements or hip replacements.”
According to the MURDOCK Study, specific research findings include:
- Hepatitis C: A protein biosignature of response was identified for individuals receiving Interferon treatment for hepatitis C. In addition, this group reported on the relationship between a genetic variant near the interleukin-28b gene and hepatitis C viral clearance with interferon treatment, leading to the development of a commercially available test.
- Cardiovascular Disease: Efforts were completed to validate the association between future cardiovascular events (death and heart attack) and metabolomics factors that contribute incrementally to information from identified clinical predictors of risk. Protein signatures and gene expression data are also being evaluated.
- Obesity: A branched chain amino acid-related metabolic signature was determined to differentiate obese and lean individuals and to be associated with insulin resistance.
- Osteoarthritis: Research undertaken by this team has demonstrated that bone trabecular integrity by fractal signature analysis can predict progression of knee osteoarthritis based on x-ray and MRI measures. The team also used proteomic analysis of joint fluid to identify potential new biomarkers for osteoarthritis progression that are now being evaluated in ongoing studies.
The MURDOCK Study is continuing its enrollment efforts of local residents to build its Community Registry and Biorepository , which is Horizon 1.5. Horizon 2 is getting underway for prospective cohort studies to delve deeper into multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, severe acne and issues related to longevity and aging.
Even with significant medical contributions already being made, Kinney emphasized that the real value is still being defined. “In my mind,” said Kinney. “The real value is a generation ahead of us. We are talking about benefits for our kids and our grandkids.”