By Joe Habina
Read the original article in the Charlotte Observer
Standing at the midpoint of the base of the North Carolina Research Campus’ horseshoe drive, John French was probably a quarter-mile away from the Cannon Village office of the Murdock Study, which was sponsoring the awareness walk he was about to take.
Symbolically, the future of the study was only a few feet in front of him in the form of his 7-year old grandson, Patrick.
French, a 64-year old Murdock Study participant, figures he’s probably too old to benefit from the research performed on his blood and the study’s potentially 50,000 other members. His grandson, however, could be of a generation whose health might be affected by the study’s results.
French, his wife Linda, and their grandson were among the people attending the Murdock Study’s second annual appreciation day Oct. 31 at the Research Campus in Kannapolis. The Frenches were part of a couple of dozen participants walking the Murdock Mile: four laps around the horseshoe to promote participation in the study.
The Murdock Study’s long-term goal is to find ways to match a patient’s treatment to his or her genetic profile. Participants initially donate an minimal amount of blood and urine and follow up with information about their personal information and health.
The study began in 2007 with the first participants enrolling. It is funded by a $35 million grant from David Murdock, who also founded the Research Campus.
“Working together, we can achieve big things for the health of the community,” said Dr. Kristin Newby, the Murdock Study director. “Obviously with the walk (Murdock Mile), it’s about heart health, doing good for your heart. But we’re about way more than that. All illnesses are important, and we want to learn about those and be a part of helping to maybe not eradicate them but ease the burden of chronic illnesses.”
Currently, there are approximately 12,000 participants enrolled. The study’s goal is to enroll 50,000.
Participants are limited to those living in specific ZIP codes in the Charlotte area. All Concord and Kannapolis residents are eligible.
Originally, residents of China Grove and Landis were not eligible. Then John French spoke with Newby last October. He convinced her to add the two Rowan County towns to the list of eligible ZIP codes.
“I feel people in this area that worked in the (textile) mills their whole lives probably have a greater risk of catching a disease because of their work environment,” said French, a retired auto mechanic. “If they can help solve these diseases, they might be able to help some of their families.”
French has had his own health issues, unrelated to where he lives. A Massachusetts native who’s lived in Landis for 20 years, French had a quadruple-heart bypass surgery in May 2013.
French had considered himself to be physically fit before his surgery. He learned that his heart blockages were more likely caused by heredity than diet or lack of exercise.
“(The Murdock Study) can maybe help my children and grandchildren down the road,” he said.
Mary Barnes, a 65-year-old Concord resident, wonders if some of the back and hip problems her family members face have something to do with genetics. She enrolled in the study about five or six years ago, she said, hoping that it will someday provide answers to the questions she has about her family’s health.
“In my family, I’m one of seven siblings; we all have some type of muscular problem,” said Barnes, a retired educator. My mom had hip and back problems, and my siblings have had these problems. I don’t know how it could be heredity, so I want to know how the genetics of African-Americans can be affected.”
Barnes attended the Murdock Study appreciation day as a study participant and as one of the vendors invited to give it a festival atmosphere. She has a part-time business selling jewelry.