250 attend seminar to learn about MURDOCK Study

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLISóInterest in Duke University’s MURDOCK Study continues to grow, if the crowd at the N.C. Research Campus Tuesday night was any indication.
More than 250 people attended the second free seminar about the groundbreaking health study, and the question-and-answer session after the presentation continued for 30 minutes.
They met in the Core Laboratory Building, crown jewel of the $1.5 billion biotechnology hub in downtown Kannapolis.
The topic was “-omics,” the nickname for the proteomic and genomic technologies that will drive the MURDOCK Study’s quest to understand the genetic cause of disease. Researchers hope to discover why some people get sick and others don’t, and why some patients respond to drug treatments and others only suffer side effects with no benefit.
Dr. Arthur Moseley, director of the Duke Proteomics Core Facility, talked animatedly about proteins, which he described as “where the rubber meets the road” in genetic research.
Dr. Simon Gregory, of the Duke University Center for Human Genetics, explained the intricacies of genomics, the study of an organism’s entire genome.
Trying to find the chromosome variation that might be responsible for disease is like “trying to find a needle in a stack of needles,” Gregory said.
Both men will spend significant time at the Core Lab in Kannapolis, where five proteomic instruments alone cost $3 million, Moseley said.
The Research Campus “is truly going to make a difference,” Moseley said.
The discussion between scientists and audience members was far-reaching.
MURDOCK Study organizers hope to enroll 50,000 Kannapolis and Cabarrus County residents in the initial registry.
When an audience member said this “sounds more like fishing to me,” the study’s chief operating officer Victoria Christian agreed.
“The registry is a fishing expedition,” Christian said. “One of the reasons we need to have 50,000 people is to have a pool to draw from.”
Those volunteers will give a blood sample, answer a questionnaire and allow limited access to their medical records.
Using that information, researchers studying four diseasesóarthritis, diabetes, heart disease and hepatitisówill find sub-populations with certain characteristics. They will ask these people to participate in more specific studies.
Research Campus founder and billionaire David Murdock gave Duke $35 million last year to jumpstart the study, named in his honor.
Duke will use $16 million, or nearly half the gift, to enroll the 50,000 participants. This includes storing blood samples for four years in a biorepository under construction near the Research Campus.
Because the study will run for decades and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, staff members in Kannapolis have been searching for additional funding “from day one,” Christian said.
Potential funding sources include the National Institutes of Health, industry partners and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Christian said.
Melinda Gates is a Duke graduate and serves on the school’s board of trustees.
Salisbury resident Myra Meyerhoeffer signed up for all six Duke seminars and attended a similar series hosted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
While the MURDOCK Study aims to personalize medicine, UNC-Chapel Hill wants to do the same with nutrition.
Meyerhoeffer predicted that when they reach adulthood, her children will have a wealth of individual health and nutrition information available with a single blood test thanks to research done in Kannapolis.
“They may even see cures for some of these diseases,” she said.