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Discovery MS launches at the NC Research Campus

KANNAPOLIS — People with multiple sclerosis (MS), scientists and philanthropists joined together this week to launch Discovery MS, a non-profit research initiative housed in the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI) at the N.C. Research Campus (NCRC).

Discovery MS is accessing private research dollars to unlock scientific discoveries that could help develop new prognostic and diagnostic tools for MS.

Private funding model

Jason Cox, who has suffered with MS for 22 years, understands the debilitating nature of the inflammatory autoimmune disease that affects the ability of the brain and spinal cord nerve cells to communicate. At the Discovery MS launch, held Nov. 7, Cox presented an $8,000 donation to Discovery MS from the J. Cox Family Foundation, the first installment of a five-year pledge.

Simon Gregory, PhD, Discovery MS principal investigator and Duke University professor of neurology, received the gift.

“We support the work of Discovery MS because it is exploratory research,” said Cox, a board member of the J. Cox Family Foundation. “They are looking for the next avenue to cure, diagnose and prevent this disease. We support Simon’s work and are going to reach out to a lot of other foundations.”

Herman Stone, CEO of Stone Theaters, provided the initial funding for Discovery MS. Stone and Cox share the goal of raising $1 million a year for the next five years to support Discovery MS and Gregory’s research.

“Simon continues to exceed my expectations,” Stone commented at the launch event. “The exciting work that he is doing plus his commitment to all of the folks who have MS makes this one of the most important projects in the country.”

Collaborative research

With the fundraising and business expertise of Stone and Cox supporting him, Gregory, who is recognized for the 2007 discovery of a genetic connection between the ILR7 gene and MS, is focused on several investigations in collaboration with scientists from North Carolina to Australia. Their work includes:

  • A new model to distinguish beta-interferon responders and non-responders. Beta-interferon is a first-line treatment used to slow the progression of MS.
  • The development of biomarker signatures to predict the development of MS.
  • Gene expression studies in longitudinal samples of patients with primary progressive MS to determine markers and mechanisms of disease progression.
  • Novel therapies that moderate immune cell expression, treat inflammation and promote remyelination.
  • Development of a smartphone app to track symptoms for presentation to health care providers and to identify signatures of disease progression.

Discovery MS evolved from Gregory’s work as the director of the Murdock Research Institute’s genomics laboratory and as the principal investigator of three MS sub-studies of the Duke University MURDOCK Study, a longitudinal clinical research project that has collected biospecimens and health information from more than 12,000 participants.

Both the research institute and the Duke-MURDOCK study are located on the research campus in Kannapolis. Discovery MS is located at the research institute, and many of the studies under way use biospecimens donated by the 976 participants of the MURDOCK MS Study. A MURDOCK sub-study focused on primary progressive MS is still collecting serial samples.

“The advantage Discovery MS has in conducting MS research is that the research institute provides the infrastructure to carry out the experiments underlying the research avenues we are pursuing,” Gregory said. “By having a collection of biospecimens generously donated by people with MS as part of the MURDOCK-MS study, we can take a multi-dimensional approach. We don’t have to limit ourselves to just looking at the genetics or the function of gene expression. We can do that in combination with metabolomics, proteomics and clinical data to enhance discovery and approach a cure.”

Multiple sclerosis causes physical and cognitive disability for 2.5 million people worldwide.

About Discovery MS

The goal of Discovery MS is to promote fuller, more active lives for people with MS by advancing the understanding of the origins of MS and improving diagnosis, prediction of disease progression, and assessment of treatment efficacy. Learn more at www.discoveryms.org.

The MURDOCK Multiple Sclerosis study is a cohort of the MURDOCK study (Measurement to Understand the Reclassification of Disease of Cabarrus/Kannapolis), Duke University’s longitudinal clinical research initiative working to reclassify health and disease and advance precision medicine. The MURDOCK MS study aims to identify biomarkers to better predict the onset and progression of multiple sclerosis. The MURDOCK study began in 2007 at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis and is led by L. Kristin Newby, MD, MHS, professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Duke University School of Medicine. To learn more, visit www.murdock-study.org.

The David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI), located on the NC Research Campus in Kannapolis, collaborates with companies, institutions and researchers throughout the world to integrate genomics, metabolomics, proteomics, analytical sciences, cellular sciences and bioinformatics to make food nutritious, therapies effective, prevention possible and people healthier. To learn more, visit www.dhmri.org.

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