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Department of Defense Selects M. D. Anderson Behavioral Scientist to Lead Army Study to Prevent and Treat Tobacco Use

$3.7 million to fund development of interactive videogame to promote smoking cessation, stress management

M. D. Anderson News Release 04/14/09

Smoking prevention and cessation expert Alexander Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., and professor in the department of Behavioral Science at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, will develop a videogame designed to help prevent and treat tobacco use in the United States military.

The videogame and supporting program is part of a study to be funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to promote health and stress management among the women and men serving in the armed forces. The $3.7 million dollar grant awarded to M. D. Anderson will solidify a partnership with the U.S. Army in Fort Hood, Texas to develop and launch the program.

"The tobacco use rates in the U.S. Army are alarming in that 38 percent of service members smoke cigarettes and 15 percent use smokeless tobacco," said Prokhorov, principal investigator for the study. "It's critical that U.S. Army service members realize that tobacco use may severely compromise physical and mental performance, and that we provide ways to help them kick these addictions or resist them in the first place."

The prototype for the interactive and educational videogame is modeled after "Escape With Your Life," another tobacco-cessation videogame developed through Prokhorov's research at M. D. Anderson. "We designed and pilot-tested "Escape With Your Life" for troubled, economically disadvantaged youth using DoD funds, and it has shown considerable promise," said Prokhorov. "The DoD site visitors who reviewed this program suggested we apply for a larger DoD grant to design a similar educational product specifically for the U.S. Army, and we are honored to be selected again."

The Army pilot program will feature animations, audio, video and interactive activities that provide facts about smoking and tobacco use, as well as a soldier-designed Avatar that guides troops through the educational track. Some of the modules will include educating participants on resisting peer pressure, coping with withdrawal symptoms and preventing relapses.

This videogame model uses computer technology to incorporate multiple elements specifically designed for the Army's program. The interactive multimedia approach to health education allows troops to learn at their own pace and will be accessible during the troops' leisure time.

"Tobacco is typically regarded by young people as a dull subject. The videogame-based education program is anything but boring. It provides a highly interactive, engaging and exciting experience," said Prokhorov. "But what I like most about the proposed program is the opportunity to raise the awareness of tobacco hazards among Army service members, motivate them to quit, and give them the skills necessary for adopting a tobacco-free lifestyle."

The grant for the study was awarded by the Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP) and the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP). Of the 40 grant requests submitted to the PRMRP in the Clinical Trials area of research, only four proposals were recommended for funding, and Prokhorov's study was the only one awarded in the Nutrition and Health category.

"The Department of Defense Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program provided a Clinical Trial Award mechanism to support the rapid implementation of clinical trials of interventions, including pharmacologic, device, or behavioral interventions, to improve military health." said Captain E. Melissa Kaime, M.D., Director of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. "Dr. Prokhorov's clinical trial, applying educational computer gaming technology to smoking cessation, is an excellent example of what we are looking for. This research has the potential to make a significant impact in preventive care and health promotion in the Armed Forces."

Prokhorov's active research and extensive work in the field of medicine, particularly involving smoking and tobacco use, has contributed to his expertise in the field and a recognized leader in the industry. He currently heads the M. D. Anderson Tobacco Outreach Education Program and directs three NIH-funded projects, including ASPIRE, a Web and evidence-based tobacco prevention and cessation program developed for junior high and high school students.04/14/09

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