Scientists rolling with MURDOCK Study

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Emily Ford
Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLISóDavid H. Murdock welcomed a bus load of Duke University scientists to Kannapolis on Wednesday and gave an official nod to a groundbreaking medical study that bears his name.
“This is your new home,” Murdock said as physicians, professors and project leaders greeted him at Pity Sake Lodge.
The researchers spent much of the day presenting an outline of the MURDOCK Study, which will run for years and rely on participation from thousands of sick people in Kannapolis and Cabarrus County to better understand obesity, diabetes, hepatitis, arthritis and heart disease.
Murdock said “shivers ran up and down my back” as he listened to plans for the study, which will operate from the N.C. Research Campus and should have worldwide impact. Murdock is building the 350-acre, $1.5 billion biotechnology campus in downtown Kannapolis.
“We heard he’s a tough taskmaster,” said Dr. Virginia Kraus, who will lead the investigation of osteoarthritis. “He’s holding our feet to the fire.”
Murdock doesn’t want scientists pontificating for years, Kraus said. Happy to oblige, she said her team hopes to quickly develop a new diagnostic test for osteoarthritis.
Their research also could lead to new drugs to slow the progression of the debilitating disease.
Investigators for the other chronic diseases included in the MURDOCK Study made similar predictions of groundbreaking discoveries, aided in large part by world-class equipment that will be housed in the Core Lab on the Research Campus.
Duke will collaborate with the six public universities on campus, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. State University.
“I realize that we have started something here that will have repercussions far beyond what anyone thought,” Murdock said.
He gave Duke $35 million last September to jump-start the study, which stands for Measurement to Understand Reclassification of Disease Of Cabarrus/Kannapolis.
In the past five months, Duke has pulled together a team of about 40 scientists and researchers, led by principal investigators Dr. Rob Califf, Dr. John McHutchison and Dr. Geoffrey Ginsburg. Victoria Christian serves as the chief operating officer.
Until Murdock, a billionaire real estate developer who owns most of downtown Kannapolis, constructs a new home for the Duke Translational Research Institute on campus, the study will operate from the old Dress Barn in Cannon Village.
Dr. Ashley Dunham, Melissa Cornish and Laveina Dash, with support from Mary Lou Perry, will work there full time and lead the effort to enroll thousands of people in the study, plus find additional funding to continue the project after Murdock’s gift runs out in five years.
The study will “rewrite the textbook of medicine” by reclassifying disease using cutting-edge genomic technologies, leaders said.
By detecting subtleties in diseases, scientists can begin to determine which patients are at risk for which illnesses and help prevent them.
Armed with new tests developed during the study, doctors also should be able to predict which patients will respond to which treatments. This will help avoid unwanted and sometimes dangerous adverse reactions to drugs.
It’s called personalized medicine, and the MURDOCK Study will epitomize it, said Dr. Andrew Conrad, chief scientific officer for the Research Campus.
The campus has hit the ground running, Conrad said.
“We’ll see how tall the building goes,” he said. “We have a hell of a foundation.”
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