NC MILL TOWN REIN­VENTED

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY BRUCE HEN­DER­SON bhen­der­son@char­lot­teob­server.com

Mill work­ers once poured into this N.C. town. Now vol­un­teers for med­i­cal re­search do, as part of the MUR­DOCK Study.

What makes He­len Mor­ri­son tick?

At 97, Mor­ri­son lives in a Con­cord re­tire­ment com­mu­nity but walks al­most daily, plays bridge four days a week and has never had a se­ri­ous ill­ness. De­spite her reg­i­men, and her sus­pi­cion that good genes are largely re­spon­si­ble, she seems mildly sur­prised at her good health.

“I just keep go­ing,” she said.

When Mor­ri­son drove her­self to an ap­point­ment this June at the North Carolina Re­search Cam­pus in Kannapolis – she’s since stopped driv­ing – she was play­ing her part in a long-run­ning study that might help you too live, if not for­ever, at least longer and health­ier.

She’s among more than 12,000 lo­cal peo­ple tak­ing part in the Mea­sure­ment to Un­der­stand the Re­clas­si­fi­ca­tion of Dis­ease of Cabar­rus/Kannapolis – the long name for what’s more sim­ply called the MUR­DOCK Study. Led by Duke Uni­ver­sity sci­en­tists, it’s among the largest med­i­cal stud­ies of a sin­gle U.S. com­mu­nity.

The study is named for Cal­i­for­nia bil­lion­aire David Mur­dock, who is 95. Mur­dock has in­vested more than $ 700 mil­lion in the Re­search Cam­pus, which was founded in 2005, and in the David H. Mur­dock Re­search In­sti­tute there.

Mur­dock is the chair­man of Dole Food Co., one of the world’s largest pro­duc­ers of fruits and veg­eta­bles, and be­lieves that long, healthy lives re­ward peo­ple who eat right. “You can eat enough whipped cream and you’ll be dead in a hurry,” Mur­dock, who has said he wants to live to be 125, once told the Observer.

His vi­sion of a world­class re­search cen­ter fo­cused on health, nu­tri­tion and agri­cul­ture now sprawls across a 350-acre cam­pus in Kannapolis, re­plac­ing the mas­sive tex­tile plant that had long dom­i­nated this for­mer mill town.

The MUR­DOCK Study, launched in 2007 with $35 mil­lion from Mur­dock, is only one part of the work un­der­way there.

The study re­cruited thou­sands of vol­un­teers and col­lected their per­sonal data, blood and urine to

ad­vance an emerg­ing dis­ci­pline known as pre­ci­sion medicine. Its goal is to move be­yond one-size-fit­sall med­i­cal ther­a­pies to tai­lored treat­ments that re­flect in­di­vid­ual dif­fer­ences in genes, en­vi­ron­ments and life­style. In­stead of re­act­ing to dis­ease, doc­tors could more ef­fec­tively pre­vent it.

All those blood and urine sam­ples, com­bined with in­for­ma­tion on where and how the vol­un­teers live, pro­vide a wealth of data that sci­en­tists can tap over and over.

A re­searcher of coro­nary artery dis­ease, for ex­am­ple, can look for pat­terns in the ri­bonu­cleic acid of thou­sands of vol­un­teers for clues to who gets sick and why. A doc­tor who’s able to iden­tify a pa­tient’s risk of de­vel­op­ing cog­ni­tive prob­lems could take preven­ta­tive steps rather than wait­ing for symp­toms to ap­pear.

“This is an op­por­tu­nity for the com­mu­nity to be a part of un­der­stand­ing their health and what in­flu­ences the health of their fam­ily, and their off­spring, and their off­spring’s off­spring,” said Dr. Kristin Newby, the Duke car­di­ol­o­gist who leads the study.

“We let peo­ple know we may find things in their life­time or in the life­time of the in­ves­ti­ga­tors. We don’t prom­ise it will turn into an im­me­di­ate cure for can­cer or di­a­betes, for ex­am­ple, but it will sup­port un­der­stand­ing them.”

MUR­DOCK re­searchers have sev­eral dif­fer­ent stud­ies un­der­way. Re­search has ranged from com­mon con­di­tions such as heart dis­ease and di­a­betes to less fre­quent but de­bil­i­tat­ing ail­ments such as mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

HELP­ING OTH­ERS

He­len Mor­ri­son is tak- ing part in a study that mea­sures phys­i­cal func­tion as adults age. Much of the fund­ing for it came from the MUR­DOCK Study and the Claude D. Pep­per Older Amer­i­cans In­de­pen­dence Cen­ter at Duke.

“I thought that if I was so healthy and could con­trib­ute any­thing, I should,” Mor­ri­son said as she waited for a bat­tery of phys­i­cal tests in a third­floor hall­way of the Re­search Cam­pus build­ing Duke shares.

Clin­i­cal re­search spe­cial­ist Alice Glines first asked Mor­ri­son to walk as quickly as she could down the hall­way. Mor­ri­son car­ried her cane but barely used it as she marched briskly along. Next, Glines had her try to bal­ance on one leg for a minute. Then sit in a chair, stand and re­peat as many times as she could in 30 sec­onds.

“Ready for bed!” Mor­ri­son cracked to on­look­ers af­ter stand­ing 11 times – more than some vol­un­teers decades younger can do. “I hope all of you live long enough to do this and won­der why you’re do­ing it.”

Fi­nally, Glines asked Mor­ri­son to walk up and down the hall­way for six min­utes. She slowed at the five-minute mark but com­pleted the full test.

Other tests probed her con­cen­tra­tion, mem­ory and at­ten­tion. Mor­ri­son was ques­tioned about her daily habits, such as what she eats and which medicines she takes. Blood and urine sam­ples were taken, adding to spec­i­mens that sci­en­tists will study for sig­nals of phys­i­cal de­cline.

DE­CLINES START EARLY

The study is among the first to mea­sure phys­i­cal func­tion across the adult life­span, said leader Mi- riam Morey, who stud­ies ex­er­cise and ag­ing at the Duke Uni­ver­sity School of Medicine.

It’s al­ready yield­ing in­ter­est­ing re­sults.

Phys­i­cal de­clines be­gin as early as the 50s, the study has found, decades sooner than they’re typ­i­cally de­tected. Both men and women in that age range, for ex­am­ple, start find­ing it harder to stand on one leg or rise from a chair. Vol­un­teers in the 60s be­gan show­ing less aer­o­bic en­durance and walked slower.

Blood and urine drawn from the vol­un­teers held more sur­prises. Sub­stances called biomark­ers, molec­u­lar pat­terns that serve as in­di­ca­tors of health or ill­ness, sig­naled phys­i­cal de­clines start­ing as early as the 30s.

Those re­sults sug­gest that adults should start tak­ing steps to main­tain their strength and en­durance well be­fore turn­ing 50, Morey said.

“Stay ac­tive, stay busy, eat healthy, laugh a lot and main­tain your so­cial con­nec­tions. Have a pur­pose for liv­ing,” she said. “Those are the fac­tors that we find again and again con­tribut­ing to a long and healthy life­span.”

Study vol­un­teer Florence Ken­dall, who’s called Flo, has been an ath­lete since she took up bas­ket­ball at 14. “I started shoot­ing the bas­ket­ball at Lo­gan High School and I’m still shoot­ing bas­ket­ball at 84,” she said.

The Con­cord na­tive is still com­pet­ing, this time in nu­mer­ous events in the Se­nior Games. She’s racked up about 150 awards in the games, in­clud­ing 17 gold medals in this year’s lo­cal com­pe­ti­tion in events rang­ing from minia­ture golf to bas­ket­ball. She placed fourth in na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, in horse­shoes, last year.

Ken­dall, a mother of three, lived in Vir­ginia for much of her adult life be­fore re­turn­ing to Con­cord a decade ago (she re­lo­cated to Nor­folk, Va., in Oc­to­ber). When she heard a pre­sen­ta­tion on the MUR­DOCK Study and signed up, it was in part be­cause two brothers had died of sickle cell ane­mia at 17 and 29. She never un­der­stood why they got sick and she didn’t.

“I think peo­ple, if they have a dis­ease or any­thing, they should learn more about it and study it,” Ken­dall said. “This is why I’m in­ter­ested in learn­ing what’s in your fam­ily. I’m cu­ri­ous: I want to know why do I have this and some­body else doesn’t? And I like to make a dif­fer­ence if I can.”

THE NORTH CAROLINA RE­SEARCH CAM­PUS

Cal­i­for­nia bil­lion­aire David Mur­dock knows Kannapolis from way back – when he bought sheet and towel maker Can­non Mills in 1982, down­town came with it.

Mur­dock sold the Can­non prop­erty a few years later, but reap­peared af­ter what had be­come Pil­low­tex Corp. filed for bank­ruptcy in 2003, throw­ing 4,300 lo­cal peo­ple out of work in the state’s largest mass lay­off. Mur­dock, then-owner of Dole Foods, bought the com­pany’s Pen­tagon-sized Plant 1 at auc­tion and tore it down.

In 2005, he un­veiled his plan for a world-class re­search cen­ter to rise from the rub­ble. Sci­en­tists and tech­ni­cians tied to uni­ver­si­ties, Dole and other busi­nesses would work where mill hands once had.

To­day the aca­demic and busi­ness part­ners at the North Carolina Re­search Cam­pus em­ploys about 470 peo­ple.

Their re­search is fo­cused on the in­ter­sec­tion of hu­man health, nu­tri­tion and agri­cul­ture: im­proved crops and food pro­cess­ing tech­nol­ogy; how plants make nu­tri­ents and func­tional components of nu­tri­tion, such as an­tiox­i­dants; re­search on can­cer and other dis­eases; and tar­geted nu­tri­tion, the im­pact of nu­tri­tion on hu­man per­for­mance and the sci­ence of an­a­lyz­ing com­plex bi­o­log­i­cal data, called bioin­for­mat­ics.

The David H. Mur­dock Re­search In­sti­tute sup­ports those stud­ies with state-of-the-art sci­en­tific equip­ment that can look at how genes func­tion and how hu­man me­tab­o­lism works.

The Re­search Cam­pus houses res­i­dent sci­en­tists from seven Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina cam­puses and Duke Uni­ver­sity. An up­com­ing ad­di­tion will be the North Carolina Food In­no­va­tion Lab­o­ra­tory, a part­ner­ship of the Re­search Cam­pus, N.C. State Uni­ver­sity, the state De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Con­sumer Ser­vices and the Golden Leaf Foun­da­tion.

The lab will fo­cus on in­no­va­tion and the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of new food prod­uct de­vel­op­ment, pro­cess­ing, safety and pack­ag­ing for ex­ist­ing cor­po­rate part­ners and new ven­tures.

Mur­dock him­self still main­tains a home in the area and vis­its when his sched­ule al­lows, his com­pany said.

“It’s very easy to spend money in sci­en­tific re­search, but I want to see the re­sults,” he said in an­nounc­ing a $50 mil­lion gift in 2013. “Some­times I have felt the re­sults were too slow in com­ing, so I’m push­ing, push­ing. Let’s make some ma­jor dis­cov­er­ies.”

Cour­tesy of Florence Ken­dall

Florence “Flo” Ken­dall, with some of her many Se­nior Games medals, is a study vol­un­teer. Ken­dall, 84, has been an ath­lete since she was 14.

ROBERT WIL­LETT rwil­lett@new­sob­server.com

Cal­i­for­nia bil­lion­aire David Mur­dock, left, chair­man of Dole Food Co., chat­ted with then-UNC Pres­i­dent Tom Ross af­ter an­nounc­ing a $50 mil­lion gift for the David H. Mur­dock Re­search In­sti­tute in 2013. Mur­dock bought Can­non Mills in 1982.

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