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J. Eugene Knott, Janet Johnson and Mark Robbins display a series of brochures being used as part of their research and intervention efforts to increase the rate of donation intentions among African American students at historically Black colleges and universities.

Researchers take organ donation efforts on the road

As part of a national effort to increase organ and tissue donations in the African-American and other minority communities where the need for organs outpaces donations, researchers from the University of Rhode Island are on the road this fall.

URI Cancer Prevention Research Center Assistant Research Professor Mark Robbins and Human Development and Family Studies Associate Professor J. Eugene Knott received a $1.27 million grant from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services to increase the rate of organ and tissue donation intentions of African American college students. The program also seeks to better understand what types of interventions in the decision-making process may lead to an increase in the donation rate.

The grant was awarded in partnership with the Carolina Donor Services and Health Promotion Alliance of four historically Black colleges and universities in North Carolina.

In this new program and in similar projects underway with other schools, URI researchers are using their successful organ-donor recruitment programs and advancing their understanding of the donation decision-making process in these populations.

“Fifteen African Americans die each week while waiting for a donor organ. Because of a high rate of end-stage renal disease in this population, 35 percent of all kidneys — the single most-needed organ for the nearly 90,000 Americans on the waiting list — are needed by Black Americans,” said Knott. “This research effort and awareness campaign will help to spread the word and open minds of potential organ donors.”

The URI team spent the first year of the three-year grant developing materials for the intervention and the measures to evaluate their impact. The campus-wide campaigns kick-off in January 2003 at North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, and Fayetteville State universities and at St. Augustine’s College.

The researchers will evaluate the efficacy of an innovative expert system intervention combined with a campus-wide awareness campaign that are all based on the Transtheoretical Model of behavior change that was developed at URI.

The research will involve two treatment groups comprised of a representative sample of sophomores and juniors. All study participants will complete telephone surveys to assess the donation decision-making process and will receive organ donation information via the campus-wide campaign. Half of the students will then receive individualized feedback reports generated by the expert system. The reports are matched to the students’ level of readiness to become an organ donor and focus on key variables that have been found important in accelerating behavior change in similar interventions.

Since joining the University in 1996, Robbins has been applying the model to understanding decision-making and behavior change processes for family consent for organ donation, individual intentions to be an organ and tissue donor, and medical regimen adherence for transplant recipients. The grant is also the latest in a series of federally funded organ donation projects that Knott has undertaken at URI since 1993.

By Jhodi Redlich

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