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Largest Gift in Duke University School of Medicine History to Fund Landmark Study

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. and KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Duke University will receive $35 million from billionaire real estate developer David H. Murdock to support a massive biomedical research project at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, NC, university president Richard H. Brodhead, PhD, and Chancellor for Health Affairs Victor J. Dzau, M.D., announced Monday.

"For the first time, we will be able to generate a global database of human health and disease that will provide us the opportunity to clearly transform medicine," Dzau said. "We are honored and tremendously pleased with this gift from Mr. Murdock and share his commitment to advancing the treatment of disease in patients here and around the world."

"We are most grateful for this gift, and David Murdock's vision, because it will bring together scientists from Duke and other North Carolina institutions to address a pressing social need," Brodhead said. "The 'M.U.R.D.O.C.K. study' has the potential to revolutionize health care by finding ways to match treatment to a patient's genetic profile. This research could lead to improved medicine around the world, but I am especially pleased that we will first be able to share our advances with citizens of North Carolina."

The Kannapolis-based M.U.R.D.O.C.K. study (Measurement to Understand the Reclassification of Disease of Cabarrus and Kannapolis) will combine the talents of physicians and scientists at Duke, the University of North Carolina and the North Carolina Community College System. They will apply the latest biotechnology to conduct broad, epidemiological studies linking genetic data to disease risk and outcomes.

Study backers say it is the 311,000-square-foot David H. Murdock Core Laboratory at NCRC – which houses world-class, state-of-the art equipment – that makes conducting this study possible.

Murdock says the gift is heartfelt. "In this life, we have only a few opportunities to make a lasting difference in the world. I am proud to join with the great researchers at Duke University to seize this opportunity and transform the world's approach to the prevention and treatment of disease. Ever since losing my wife to cancer at a young age, human health has been my driving passion. With my gift to Duke and the work that will be done at the North Carolina Research Campus, this passion becomes the point of departure for a scientific adventure that will save countless lives. And for that, I am grateful."

Backers say the M.U.R.D.O.C. K. study will ultimately mean better health and longer lives for millions of people. They liken it to the historic Framingham study, founded in Framingham, Mass., in 1948, that followed generations of residents and produced much of our current knowledge about heart disease.

"Our project is no less ambitious," said Robert Califf, MD, 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 said.

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.

"With all of the data we expect to generate, we will essentially be able to rewrite the textbook of medicine," Califf said.

Califf said data in their new "medical textbook" will reveal molecular signatures that characterize disease and provide doctors with cost-effective, real-world tools to inform health care decision-making. "But perhaps the most important part of the project will be the linkage of all of this information to clinical data, images and traditional risk factor measures that will help us treat patients according to their specific biological profile," Califf said. "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. Patients enrolled in the study can expect to donate blood samples and other clinical data. Investigators will follow them over time to see how they fare and how they respond to specific treatments.

The information generated will be combined with a major health project planned for Durham County and a project under development involving Duke's new Graduate Medical School in Singapore.

"Local physicians are a critical component of the plan," said John McHutchison, M.D., co-leader of M.U.R.D.O.C.K. and associate director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute. Duke and Cabarrus County physicians already have strong relationships dating back to 1973, when they began a partnership to increase subspecialty training in the area.

"Now, we will be calling on their expertise again," McHutchison said. "Through their routine care of area patients, they will be the closest clinical contacts for any patients enrolled in the study and the first to pinpoint any changes in patients' health."

McHutchison will lead a major M.U.R.D.O.C.K. initiative focusing on the genetic underpinnings of Hepatitis C infection. "I can't speak for all of our scientists, but personally I know that for me this is the day I've been waiting for. I bet I have at least tens of thousands of specimens from our liver patients collected over the last 20 years waiting to be analyzed. We can't wait to get started."

Dzau, in noting that improving global health is one of the key missions of the university, said, "Thanks to Mr. Murdock, our collective research will enable unprecedented understanding of human disease, and how genetics, geography and environment contribute to health and wellness. Mr. Murdock's gift is truly a gift to us all."

David H. Murdock is the owner and chairman of Dole Food Company Inc. and Castle & Cooke Inc., one of the largest real estate development companies in the world. He is an outspoken advocate of improving global health through disease prevention, better nutrition and innovation in crop science.

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