Duke increases its presence on the North Carolina Research Campus; Clinical research is a growth industry in Kannapolis


Ashley Dunham, PhD in one of the treatment rooms. Photo by Marty Price

By Marty Price. Ashley Dunham, PhD, director of operations for Translational Population Research, part of the Duke Translational Medicine Institute (DTMI), was one of the four original employees hired by the Duke University School of Medicine to work the MURDOCK Study Community Registry and Biorepository—the research that most people think of as the Murdock study, that now includes 12,000 participants.

The small group started in offices at 147 West Ave. in Kannapolis, with only the one MURDOCK study in 2008 and has been adding staff as they added studies.

Adding six other MURDOCK studies, including the MURDOCK Healthy Aging Study, with four separate projects, one of which is the LIVE Type 2 Diabetes Study (Learning In Virtual Environments), the staff swelled to 30—six of those being hired since the summer of 2014.

“We are doing great research and it is important, but we also see the economic value,” said Dunham. Pointing out that there aren’t any clinical research jobs in the area unless you go to Charlotte she said, “I think we have offered up a career for people that they wouldn’t have otherwise had in this area. Most of our staff are local people who we hire and give extensive training.”

In August of this year the DTMI moved into its new 5,000 square foot office suite on the third floor of the NCRC Medical Plaza in Kannapolis.  Less than .5 miles from the original offices it will make communication and work flow between the two offices easier.

The suite includes four treatment rooms, and Dunham said that with the proximity of the Carolinas Health Care System in the same building, participants would be able to get x-rays or other medical imaging if they are needed for the studies.

Chris Lewis works in the research area  at the NCRC Medical Plaza in Kannapolis. Photo by Marty Price

Chris Lewis works in the research area at the NCRC Medical Plaza in Kannapolis. Photo by Marty Price

“We outgrew our space at 147 and we’ve been needing this new space, but we wanted to make sure it had a clinical space.  Because we do research in medicine we conduct a lot of activities you’d see in a normal doctor’s office,” said Dunham.

She said that there are six new studies that are in the planning schedule with “a couple of studies that will require us to hire a significant number of people,” which could end up meaning even more expansion as the new area only has space for about ten additional employees.

Dunham added that as DTMI shares their findings and samples with the other colleges on the research campus it should create more employment opportunities as those schools expand their own studies.

“We have other studies in the pipeline that will require staff.  We’ve always been in the mode of expansion, so everyone we have hired for these studies have been hired for work beyond that particular study,” she said.


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