The Research Institute for Health Sciences (RIHES) was formally constituted as part of Chiang Mai University in 1978. RIHES conducts biomedical, clinical, epidemiological and behavioral research on priority public health topics of concern to Thailand and its neighboring countries. The emphasis is on research studies that will have an impact in shaping national health and social policy and will yield findings that have an immediate practical benefit which can be extrapolated for use in the rest of Thailand, or other countries in Southeast Asia or elsewhere. The Institute has three major roles: (1) conduct research relevant to the local context; (2) carry out research training; and (3) serve as a resource center on public health issues.
RIHES has sought to track emerging demographic, environmental and health trends and their consequences, at population and community level, for human exposures, behaviors and health outcomes. The principal themes of the research program at RIHES are infectious and tropical diseases, concentrating on HIV/AIDS, malaria and dengue; opiate and methamphetamine addiction; pollution and environmental health and human nutrition and metabolism. The RIHES research portfolio includes field-based community surveys, clinical and vaccine trials to test new drug regimens and vaccine candidates for prevention of HIV/AIDS and health systems research.
Training support for RIHES has been extensively provided by the Fogarty International Center (FIC) a division of NIH and has been principally channeled through the Johns Hopkins University Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program (AITRP), now in its 23rd year (2010). More than 100 RIHES and Chiang Mai University staff, as well as members of the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) and other universities in Thailand, have benefitted from this program, which has provided short-term training, long-term degree training, long-term postdoctoral/mentored training, re-entry grants, conference support and in-country training workshops since 1991.
In addition, FIC has provided support for American medical students and their Thai counterparts under its Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholars (FICRS) program and to date 10 American scholars have benefitted from this program together with their matched Thai counterparts.
Malaria and dengue hemorrhagic fever are mosquito borne diseases which are still major health problems in Thailand. As long as a vaccine is not available, mosquito vector control is still an important means of reducing disease transmission. A research team, headquartered at RIHES, is currently working on insecticide susceptibility and resistant mechanisms in mosquito vectors in collaboration with the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University, the Office of Vector Borne Disease Control (MOPH), and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, U.K. We are now expanding from field studies to high technology in biochemistry and molecular biology.
Human nutrition is another research focus at RIHES and concentrates on micronutrient deficiency, over-nutrition, nutrition and diabetes, nutritional status of the elderly, nutritive value of local cooked and uncooked foods, agricultural production and nutritive value, food contamination and other areas of concern to the northern population.
Pollution and environmental health research has also had increasing attention at RIHES. The impact of environmental pollution on both economic development and global climate change, and the consequent implications for human health, is our major current research interest. Increased use of agrochemicals, in particular, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, has been frequently reported in various parts of the world as well as in northern Thailand. Pesticide exposure among vulnerable groups such as pregnant mothers and young children are of special interest. A study of neuro-developmental effects from maternal pesticide exposure on the human fetus is currently underway in collaboration with Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and USCDC with support from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), NIH. The other serious environmental health concern is airborne particulate pollution since the haze crisis that occurred in upper northern Thailand in March 2007. At RIHES, both major environmental pollution studies have been supported by a toxicology laboratory equipped with modern analytical apparatus and the participation of research students.