Global Health Starts at Home

November 30, 2007
Good measure: Ella Lightbody has her blood pressure taken as part of the Framingham study, the longitudinal model for M.U.R.D.O.C.K.

Good measure: Ella Lightbody has her blood pressure taken as part of the Framingham study, the longitudinal model for M.U.R.D.O.C.K. Mark Peterson / CORBIS

Duke will receive $35 million from billionaire real-estate developer and Dole Food Company Inc. owner David H. Murdock to support a massive biomedical research project at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in the city of Kannapolis.

The Kannapolis-based M.U.R.D.O.C.K. study (Measurement to Understand the Reclassification of Disease of Cabarrus and Kannapolis) will include physicians and scientists at Duke, the University of North Carolina, and the North Carolina Community College System. They will conduct broad, epidemiological studies linking genetic data to disease risk and outcomes at the 311,000-square-foot David H. Murdock Core Laboratory.

The project's backers compare the new project to the historic Framingham Heart Study, started in Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1948, that followed generations of residents and produced much of our current knowledge about heart disease.

"Our project is no less ambitious," says Robert Califf '73, M.D. '78, M.U.R.D.O.C.K.'s lead investigator and director of the Duke Translational Medicine Institute. "Like the Framingham study, M.U.R.D.O.C.K. will also seek detailed information about thousands of participants and their families over time. By measuring genes, proteins, and metabolites, we aspire to be able to give advice to individuals about how to stay healthy and optimally treat illness when it occurs. Combining this information across entire counties using electronic health records, we believe we can provide much better prevention programs for the diseases that are causing death and disability in our society and beyond."

"This is a Framingham study for the molecular age," Califf says.

M.U.R.D.O.C.K. researchers will focus on high-impact diseases, including cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, hepatitis, osteoarthritis, and mental illness. By linking data, Califf says, they will be able to "treat patients according to their specific biological profile. There won't be any more 'one size fits all' in patient care. This is what translational medicine is all about."

Duke has some of the most extensive clinical databases and biospecimen repositories in the world. With the M.U.R.D.O.C.K. support, investigators will begin their work with samples from those sources. Simultaneously, they will begin laying the groundwork for enrolling study volunteers from in and around Kannapolis and surrounding Cabarrus County.

In announcing the gift, Victor J. Dzau, chancellor for health affairs, pointed out that the project complements Duke's recent focus on global health. "Thanks to Mr. Murdock," he said, "our collective research will enable unprecedented understanding of human disease, and how genetics, geography, and environment contribute to health and wellness."