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RTI Stories

Middle Schools, Malaria, and St. John's Wort: RTI Enters the New Century

Developing a cure for malaria is tough, because the life cycle of the parasite is very complex

RTI overflowed with ambitious research projects at the start of the 2000's. Institute researchers collaborated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) on a five-year study, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, that evaluated the effectiveness of alcohol- and drug-use prevention programs at middle schools. Although such programs had been around in various guises for nearly 30 years, they had not met with uniform success, and some schools persisted in programs known to be ineffective.

Meanwhile, RTI's global health researchers sought ways to halt the transmission of malaria, the world's most debilitating disease, which then accounted for more than one million deaths worldwide every year. Their research focused on using analytical chemistry to improve the malaria vaccine's assay–that is, the procedure for measuring the biochemical or immunological activity of a given sample. "Developing a cure for malaria is tough because the life cycle of the parasite responsible is very complex," said Charles Sparacino, a project scientist. "What we're doing won't cure someone who already has the disease, but it may stop transmission from organism to organism."

Elsewhere, RTI served as the data management and statistical analysis center for the first large-scale, multisite clinical study of St. John's Wort in the United States, investigating this herb's efficacy as a treatment for depression. Institute researchers, in collaboration with Duke University, studied 340 patients, each randomly assigned to one of three treatments–St. John's wort, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or a placebo. The study, funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), determined that St. John's Wort was no more effective than placebo in relieving depression, a finding that was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the 2000s, NIMH also funded the Multisite HIV Prevention Trial, the largest-ever randomized, controlled HIV behavioral-intervention study in the United States; once again, RTI served as the project's data coordination center. More than 3,700 men and women in 37 inner-city clinics were enrolled in the trial to determine if participation in HIV prevention sessions effectively reduced high-risk sexual behaviors. The findings, published in Science, indicated that these interventions halved the frequency of high-risk behaviors, and were thus an effective strategy that could be adopted by public health organizations.