MURDOCK Study has 10,000th participant

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 23, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — Just call him “Mr. Ten Thousand.”
That’s what Stephen Long, a 23-year-old from Concord, dubbed himself Friday after he became the 10,000th person to enroll in Duke University’s MURDOCK Study, based at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis.
When Long, who works in the health care industry, agreed to enroll in the study, he didn’t know he would represent a milestone and garner media attention.
“I was not expecting to be filmed during my session,” he said, adding that he didn’t mind and hopes coverage of his enrollment will prompt others to join.
The study, named for Research Campus founder and Dole Food chairman David Murdock, enrolled the first participant almost five years ago in February 2009. The project still has a long way to go, aiming to sign up 50,000 people living in 18 zip codes in Cabarrus County and Kannapolis in a community registry.
The registry provides a resource for Duke scientists, physicians and their partners to use for research projects and clinical trials that will help them better understand how diseases are diagnosed and treated. The acronym MURDOCK stands for Measurement to Understand the Reclassification of Disease Of Cabarrus/Kannapolis, and Murdock, who has a home near Kannapolis, is providing most of the funding for the study.
Like all enrollees, Long filled out a health questionnaire, provided small blood and urine samples and had his waist measured and blood pressure taken. The process took about 40 minutes, and he will update the questionnaire every year that he wants to remain in the study.
For his time, he received a $10 gift card and the knowledge that he could help change modern medicine.
Researchers will use information and samples from Long and others — the blood and urine are stored in LabCorp’s biobank in Kannapolis — to better understand at a genetic level why some people get sick while others live to be 100, literally. One research project using MURDOCK samples is a study of centenarians.
Researchers affiliated with the MURDOCK Study are also studying heart disease, liver disease, osteoarthritis, obesity, severe acne, multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
For example, researchers studying memory and cognitive health are using data from the MURDOCK Study as part of a larger data set that will identify indicators for early detection of Alzheimer’s. They also hope to better identify the right drug at the right stage of the disease.
Many sub-studies about specific diseases do not have a geographic requirement, and enrollees can live anywhere.
A graduate of Robinson High School in Concord and Hampton University in Virginia, Long said when Perla Nunes, MURDOCK clinical trials project leader, asked him to join the study, he had never heard of it. But once he learned more, he became interested.
He said he had just attended a work-related conference about innovation in medicine.
“After hearing about the study and reading about it, I definitely thought it was innovative,” he said. “They are trying to figure out new ways to treat and prevent different diseases.
“In the future, this could make a difference if they do find something that would allow them to stop or maybe cure a disease.”
The MURDOCK study has 21 full-time employees, two part-time employees and numerous volunteers, said Leah Boulter Bouk, clinical trials project leader.
Enrolling the 10,000th person was “a huge milestone for us,” Bouk said.
“That 20 percent (of 50,000) means that we are kind of getting over the hump,” she said. “More and more people know about it.”
Bouk, who has worked for the study since the first person enrolled, said at initial recruitment events, no one had heard of the project.
“Now we have many people who have heard of us or say, ‘I’m already enrolled,’ ” she said. “It’s so rewarding.”
Enrollees are passionate about their involvement, and many help recruit new participants, going door to door with MURDOCK employees. They have been an effective recruitment tool, Bouk said.
“They are good at encouraging others to enroll,” she said. “We might talk to them all day long, but as soon as they hear a family member or coworker say they’re enrolled, they’re much more likely to do it.”
The biggest scientific breakthrough related to the MURDOCK Study so far was the discovery in July 2009 of a way to help determine which people with hepatitis C would respond to interferon treatments, Bouk said.
The difficult treatments are only effective for some people, and the discovery led to a test that better predicts if interferon will help.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.