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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI researchers awarded $1 million grant to increase organ, tissue donations among minorities

Media Contact: Jhodi Redlich, 401-874-4500

KINGSTON, R.I. -- July 18, 2005 -- As part of a continued national effort to increase organ and tissue donations in African-American and other minority communities, researchers from the University of Rhode Island have been awarded a $1,078,385 from the U. S. Health Resources and Services Administration, Division of Transplantation.

The grant is the second awarded to URI in recent years to address the organ donation issue from a behavior-change perspective. This new award follows the successful completion of a $1.25 million grant to increase the donation intentions for students attending four Historically Black Colleges and Universities in North Carolina that was implemented 2002-2004.

In this new program, URI researchers will use their successful organ-donor recruitment and behavior-change programs with African American adults living in Guilford County, N.C., as part of a broader health promotion campaign. In addition to affecting the donation decision-making process, the project is also designed to encourage exercise/physical activity among the participants, while monitoring cigarette smoking and stress management activities.

The grant was awarded to URI in partnership with the North Carolina Affiliate of the National Kidney Foundation and North Carolina A&T State University. URI Psychology Department and Cancer Prevention Research Center Assistant Professor Mark Robbins of Wakefield, R.I., Lorna Harris of North Carolina A&T State University and Jaye Scull of the National Kidney Foundation North Carolina are co-principal investigators on the grant. Human Development and Family Studies Associate Professor J. Eugene Knott of Peace Dale, R.I., and postdoctoral fellow Kara Hall are co-investigators on the project from URI.

Robbins said the aim of the latest grant is to increase the rate of donation intentions among African American adults. “What we learned from our previous work is that different community groups have differing values, beliefs about organ donation, and different experiences with health care in general. Our goal is to find ways to increase awareness and donor willingness among the African American community, so that their ultimate transplantation experience may be optimized, and more high quality tissue match transplantations can be accomplished,” said Robbins.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, there are more than 83,000 individuals on the national transplant waiting list. Of these, about 50 percent represent minorities. This need for organs outpaces registered donations.

The URI team is responsible for directing the research methodologies of the grant and the creation of content and distribution of tailored intervention materials. The researchers will evaluate the effectiveness of an innovative computerized expert system intervention combined with a community awareness campaign delivered by health advocates. These interventions are based on the transtheoretical model of behavior change, which was developed at URI’s Cancer Prevention Research Center.

Community-based donor awareness campaigns will be put into place for all potential participants. Selected participants will complete periodic assessments of their donation intentions and half of them will receive individually tailored organ donation expert system feedback reports. The system incorporates a person’s readiness to make a decision or change a behavior as part of their individualized feedback. It has been tailored to reflect their readiness to be organ and tissue donors. Hall, a postdoctoral fellow at URI’s Cancer Prevention Research Center, heads the expert system development for this project.

The new study joins ongoing projects researching ways to increase family consent for donation, motivate individuals to declare their intent to donate and share their decision with family members. Those projects have received grants and contracts totaling approximately $5.5 million, including a $1.2 million grant awarded to Robbins and Knott at URI in 1999 for a program to increase family consent for organ donation.

Following decades of extensive research sponsored in large part by the National Cancer Institute, the transtheoretical model is now used successfully in interventions for behaviors such as smoking, alcohol, cocaine, mammography, exercise, sun protection, coping and stress, weight control, HIV and safer sex, and substance abuse.

Photo caption
Organ donation research team: URI Human Development and Family Studies Associate Professor J. Eugene Knott, Paul Krebs, a graduate student assistant, and Psychology Department and Cancer Prevention Research Center Assistant Professor Mark Robbins. In front row, Project Manager Karin Oatley and postdoctoral fellow Kara Hall. URI News Bureau Photo by Michael Salerno Photography.