Pathologists and clinical laboratory scientists may see this research initiative—dubbed the MURDOCK Study—produce knowledge that results in new diagnostic medical lab tests
Can molecular biomarkers do for a North Carolina town what silicon chips did for California’s Silicon Valley? At least one city in the Tar Heel State hopes that it can develop into a major hub for research, development, and the commercialization of molecular science and next-generation gene sequencing.
The unlikely contender pursuing this goal is the city of Kannapolis. With a population of 43,000 and located about 25 miles northwest of Charlotte, the city fathers of Kannopolis appear to be positioning the community as an up-and-coming global center for biobanking.
Long-Term Study of Population’s Diseases Uses Genetics, Other Data
One impetus for this goal is the $35-million MURDOCK study. This acronym stands for “Measurement to Understand the Reclassification of Disease of Cabarrus/Kannapolis.”
Researchers are using advanced technologies—such as the study of genes, proteins, and other biomarkers—to identify genomic linkages within and across diseases. Hepatitis C, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoarthritis are among the diseases to be studied.
Kannapolis is also the site for the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC), an organization devoted to harnessing scientific innovation to attract companies and boost employment, according to a NCRC news release issued in November announcing the campus’s six-year anniversary.
Hopes are high that the geographically limited MURDOCK Study will prove as beneficial as the ground-breaking Framingham Heart Study, according to Ashley Dunham, a health leader for the NCRC-based research, who was quoted in the news release.
Compared to Framingham, which has explored cardiovascular disease risk factors in just 5,000 people since the 1940s), Kannapolis better mirrors disease risk factors in the entire U.S. population. This makes the MURDOCK Study more nationally representative, Dunham added.
Study to Reveal Patterns between Genes, Life Histories, and Diseases
MURDOCK research is slated to be a long-term genomic study under the auspices of the Duke Translational Medicine Institute (DTMI). It is tracking health changes among 11,000 residents of Kannapolis, Cabarrus, and neighboring areas. Plans are to eventually expand the study to include 50,000 people.
Findings are expected to be applicable to aspects of several diseases. Improved treatments and prevention strategies may also be revealed.
Researchers are searching for patterns in the interplay between genes, life histories, and chronic disease. They understand that their findings may lead to new pathology and clinical laboratory tests. They hope their research will “inform the creation of new predictive tests, diagnosis and even treatment that can be matched to individual genetic profiles,” according to a feature-length article about NCRC in Pacific Standard Magazine.
Research Team to Collect Blood and Urine Specimens
As part of the MURDOCK Study, the research team wants to collect, blood and urine specimens, family medical histories, and electronic health records from one in three adults living in the greater Kannapolis area, noted the article.
The samples are reportedly being housed in a 40,000-square-foot biobank located in Kannapolis.
The city of Kannapolis is not the only site for a major biobanking facility, of course. In fact, Pacific Standard reported a “race to collect data and biomaterial” that is being stimulated by gene-based prescriptions and the disease diagnostics markets, which is expected to reach $42 billion by 2015.
Research Center Fills a Void, Connects Community
In North Carolina, this data collection effort began in 2007 with a $35-million donation made by the campus’s founder, David H. Murdock. He also owns the Dole Food Co. and is reportedly passionate about nutrition, health and longevity.
The 91-year-old Murdock, who plans to live to age 125, said in story published by The New York Times Magazine that he is on a mission to “slay such killers as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.”
The North Carolina Research Center campus found a home in an old Cannon Mills textile complex that Murdock purchased in 2004. It was razed to make way for a complex focused on health, the Pacific Standard Magazine reported.
Biomarker Factory is a Spin-off Venture of LabCorp and Duke
Meanwhile, about 20% of the samples already in the biorepository, located about one mile from NCRC, are on a fast track. The source of the samples is Duke University Medical Center. It brought them to the table, so to speak, during the formation of a joint venture with Laboratory Corporation of America (NYSE:LH) (LabCorp), which reportedly invested $24 million in the new company, Pacific Standard Magazine reported.
Their venture—known as the Biomarker Factory—combines Duke’s biomarker discovery capabilities with LabCorp’s expertise in development and commercialization of innovative diagnostics and laboratory tests, according to a news release jointly issued by these organizations.
“We are uniquely positioned to accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries into clinical practice, and create the potential for a major step forward in our pursuit of personalized medicine,” said Victor J. Dzau, M.D., Chancellor for Health Affairs at Duke University and CEO of the Duke University Health System, in the joint-venture announcement.
Hopes Are Biobanking Activities Will Bring New Jobs to Kannapolis
But it’s unclear how the Kannapolis population will benefit from Biomarker Factory research activities, the Pacific Standard Magazine article noted. Many residents lost their jobs when Cannon Mills closed its manufacturing facility here, which employed 16,000 at its peak.
Participants in the MURDOCK Study reportedly receive a $10 Walmart gift card. They are motivated, apparently, by the idea of restoring their community’s economy, Pacific Standard Magazine pointed out.
In its simplest form, this is a story about a city wanting to stake an early claim in the biobanking business as a way to create new jobs. What may be more intriguing for pathologists and medical laboratory professionals is the MURDOCK Study itself. This study is designed to be a multi-decade research program with the goal of better understanding the relationship of genetics, life histories, and chronic diseases over the lifetimes of individual Kannapolis residents who participate in this study. Thus, similar to the Women’s Health Initiative, for years to come new insights that lead to innovative diagnostic clinical laboratory tests may be one outcome from the MURDOCK study.
—by Donna Marie Pocius
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