David H. Murdock

Playing our part in improving medical care

April 27, 2012

By JENNIFER MONTAGUE
DavidsonNews.net

Murdock study map and researcher

KANNAPOLIS – So you think scientists and doctors are the only ones who make the exciting advances in medicine and disease treatments? Not so—you can play an important role, too, as subjects of the studies and trials that are a major component of medical research.

At the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, researchers are conducting one of the largest general population health studies in recent memory. The MURDOCK Study Community Registry, is a joint venture with David H. Murdock, who provided the name and the funding, and the Duke Translational Medicine Institute. MURDOCK is an abbreviation for Measurement to Understand the Reclassification of Disease of Cabarrus/Kannapolis. Its goal is to create a bank of medical information and tissue samples from 50,000 participants in this region. Researchers can then use this information to gain a better understanding of many different kinds of diseases.

Studies, trials and peopleWe often hear researchers talking about studies and trials. A “study” can include any type of medical data gathering effort, while a “trial” typically only refers to investigations involving a new drug or medical device. Without the participation of both healthy and sick volunteers, new drugs would never make it to market and information about how a disease progresses, or what habits might lead to the onset of an illness, would never be uncovered.

Although people don’t generally think about clinical trials until they are faced with a specific illness, especially one without a proven remedy, there is a way to start storing your information now, in case the need for a trial comes up some years later. That’s through a health study like the one underway now in Kannapolis.

While the creation of such a huge database may seem complicated, participating in the study is simple. All it takes is a one-time, 45-minute visit, supplying three tablespoons each of blood and urine, and filling out an annual questionnaire to update your health information. For their trouble, study volunteers get a $10 gift certificate and a T-shirt.

And if you live here in the the Lake Norman area, you don’t have to go to Kannapolis: MURDOCK study representative comes to the Ada Jenkins Center every Thursday and Friday to register interested folks. Almost 100 people have enrolled at the Center since the twice-weekly visits began last November.

The only requirement to be a part of the registry is that you live in one of the study’s participating areas, which surround Kannapolis, and that you be 18 or older. The area covers 18 Zip codes from Kannapolis and Concord west to Davidson and Huntersville and east to Mount Pleasant and Misenheimer.

HOW THE REGISTRY WORKS

The blood and urine samples are processed and stored in a large biobank in Kannapolis. A biobank is basically a warehouse filled with special freezers that can preserve the biological samples for many years. Both the biobank and the health database protect participants’ confidentiality by identifying samples and information with only a number. That way, a scientist can request blood samples from, say, all of the 50-year-old female smokers without knowing exactly who those people are.

About 7,800 people from around the region are now enrolled in MURDOCK Registry. As recruiting continues to pull in more participants, additional sub-studies have begun. These include investigations into severe acne and response to Accutane treatment, multiple sclerosis biomarkers, and the genetics of centenarians.

Another study that looks at physical performance and the aging process will start recruiting in May. By the way, they will accept participants starting at the age of 30, so don’t think you’re too young to be part of an aging study!

The study has been recruiting participants at health fairs, like this one recently at Cabarrus Arena. From left, Duke Translational Medicine Institute employees Brian Foley, Marylou Perry and Sarah Maichle. (MURDOCK Study photo)

The study has been recruiting participants at health fairs, like this one recently at Cabarrus Arena. From left, Duke Translational Medicine Institute employees Brian Foley, Marylou Perry and Sarah Maichle. (MURDOCK Study photo)

OTHER RESEARCH CAMPUS STUDIES

Other institutions on the campus offer interesting studies, too, such as the blueberry study run by UNC Chapel Hill’s Nutrition Research Institute, which is designed to help determine whether blueberries confer any cognitive improvements. The BERRY (Blueberries: Exciting Research Relevant to You) Study is currently enrolling people aged 65 to 79 who are having some memory loss but have not been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The participants will receive a dried powder to take every day for six months—either dried blueberries or a similar-looking placebo—and will come in nine times over that period to take cognitive tests and answer diet and lifestyle questions.

There are a number of reasons why people choose to participate in a study, but the result of having everyone pitch in is the same: A steady progression towards the cure of diseases.

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