I came to Australia in 1982 as a refugee, and my life and career has been centered around UNSW and St Vincent's Hospital where I used to be a kitchen hand. Currently, I am an NHMRC Leadership Fellow (L3) and Head of the Genetics and Epidemiology of Osteoporosis Lab (Healthy Ageing Theme) at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. I hold appointments as Senior Principal Research Fellow of the Garvan Institute; Conjoint Professor of the...view more
I came to Australia in 1982 as a refugee, and my life and career has been centered around UNSW and St Vincent's Hospital where I used to be a kitchen hand. Currently, I am an NHMRC Leadership Fellow (L3) and Head of the Genetics and Epidemiology of Osteoporosis Lab (Healthy Ageing Theme) at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. I hold appointments as Senior Principal Research Fellow of the Garvan Institute; Conjoint Professor of the School of Population Health and St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Medicine, UNSW Sydney; Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Medicine, University of Notre Dame Australia; and Professor of Predictive Medicine, University of Technology Sydney (UTS). I am an elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences.
In plain language, I want to find out why people have osteoporosis, what causes bone fracture, and how to predict the risk of fracture for an individual. My research program is driven by the hypothesis that an individual's susceptibility to fracture is determined by reduced bone strength due to bone loss, and deteriorated bone structure, and that bone loss and bone structure are primarily determined by genetic factors. My research objectives are: (a) to identify etiological factors and genes that are associated with bone loss and bone structure; and (b) to develop predictive models based on etiological and genetic factors to predict an individual's risk of fracture and adverse outcomes, especially mortality following a fracture. I pursue both epidemiological and genetic research, often combining the two, to address issues that are transformational, shaping policy and practice leading to better treatment and control of osteoporosis.
In recent years, with the ongoing developments of high throughput sequencing technologies and advancement of modern bioinformatics, my research interests focus on the use of new technologies to discover genetic variants relevant to bone phenotypes and bone loss, and then translate the findings into personalised risk assessment. Key research areas include genomewide sequencing studies of bone loss and bone fracture, and application of modern biostatistical methods to large clinical and genomic datasets. I am also interested in the dissection of the complex interrelationship between osteoporosis and diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and cancer.
Publications and impact
I have authored or coauthored more than 320 publications, including ~260 original papers, 20 invited reviews, 27 commentaries, editorials and debates. The majority of publications have come from research that I have initiated and supervised, with the authorship shared among my PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, whom I have mentored over the years. Apart from osteoporosis which has been my primary research interest, I have also had collaborative publications in osteoarthritis, obesity and diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and infectious diseases. A significant number of papers have been published in highest impact journals in the field, notably the J Bone Miner Res (45 papers) and J Clin Endocrinol Metab (25 papers). A number of key papers are published in more general journals, including BMJ, Lancet, JAMA, Ann Int Med, New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, Nature Genetics, Nature Rev Endocrinol, eLife. Some papers are groundbreaking in the field, received applauded commentaries. Many of his papers have generated a great deal of interests from colleagues around the world. Overall, his publications have been cited more than 32,000 times by other authors (as at 12/1/2020). My careerwise h- index is 92 (Scopus). In terms of citation, I am among the top 0.1% medical scientists internationally.
My lab and I have uncovered and defined the effects of etiological factors, including genetic variants that contribute to fracture susceptibility, its adverse outcomes and mortality, and have translated this knowledge into predictive models for targeting treatment options. My work has helped shift the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of osteoporosis into a new and better paradigm. A highlight of my translational work is the development and implementation of the Garvan Fracture Risk Calculator (www.fractureriskcalculator.com) for predicting the risk of fracture for any individual. In recent years, my lab has created the world's first "osteogenomic profiling" from 62 genetic variants associated with bone density for predicting fracture risk. I am working toward the implementation of this profile in the personalised fracture risk assessment.
I have contributed to the profession through my services in journal editorial boards and peer review. He is currently an Associate Editor of Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease, Academic Editor for Scientific Reports, PLoS ONE and PeerJ, and former Associate Editor of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. I am a regular reviewer for more than 20 medical and bone journals around the world. I am regularly called on to provide adjudicated opinions on manuscripts submitted to JAMA, Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, and BMJ.
I also contributed to grant review for many funding agencies around the world, including NHMRC, Wellcome Trust, NIH, WHO, Elan (Germany), New Zealand, Iceland, Israel, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Czech Health Research Council. I have been called on to offer opinions on applications for full professorship in the UCSD and UCLA. I regularly speak or give lectures in major osteoporosis conferences nationally and internationally. I have also been invited to serve on organising committees of various international conferences. In 2018, I was admitted to be a Fellow of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research for my distinguished accomplishments and contributions to the musculoskeletal field and many years of contributions to the Society. In 2019, I was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences.
I have supervised 15 PhD students (4 in Vietnam) who are now successful and independent researchers. Currently, I am supervising 3 PhD students. All of my students have published their work in high profile journals, and have won national and international prizes. Moreover, I have supervised many postdoc fellows from Asia, Europe and USA, who are now successful researchers in their own countries. Through my former postdoc and students, I have been able to establish an extensive network of collaborations which help to validate my work in Australia. I am currently available to supervise PhD, honours, and ILP students.
I have extensive research collaborations with colleagues from Europe (Norway, France, Sweden, the Netherlands), America (USA, Canada), and Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Thailand). I have also actively co-directed large scale studies in Thailand and Vietnam. I and my colleagues have conducted a major osteoporotic study in Vietnam called Vietnam Osteoporotic Study (VOS) that involved more than 4000 individuals. The aim of VOS is to search for genetic variants and environmental factors that are associated with bone phenotypes. Moreover, I am collaborating with the GeFOS Consortium (GEnetic Factors for OSteoporosis) to search for genes that are associated with bone loss.
I have been appointed as a Visiting Professor at the Khon Kaen University School of Medicine (Thailand), Hanoi Medical University (Vietnam), Ton Duc Thang University (Vietnam), and Tromso University (Norway). During the past 15 years, I have conducted more than 20 workshops in research methodology, scientific writing, epidemiology & biostatistics, and evidence based medicine in Thailand and Vietnam. My highly popular workshops have attracted and improved research capacity for thousands of doctors, health care professionals, and scientists in Vietnam. I have published 12 books in Vietnam, and has received a number of national awards and honors for my work in Vietnam. I have established the Bone and Muscle Research Laboratory at the Ton Duc Thang University, Vietnam. This lab is conducting large scale clinical and research projects that complement my work in Australia.
Most of my work has been supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). I have been supported by 2 NHMRC fellowships to which I am forever grateful.
• NHMRC APP1195305 (2021-2026): Investigator Fellowship. Prediction of fracture by clinico-genetic profiling. Funding: $2,339,215 (CI: Nguyen)
• Amgen Global Competitive Grant (2020-2022). Development of a clinico-genetic model for predicting fracture and post-fracture mortality. Funding: $280,000. (CI: Nguyen)
• NHMRC APP1176600 (2020-2022): Translation of best practice in osteoporosis refracture prevention: stopping fragility fraturs to keep Australians out of hospital. Budget: $855,000 (CIs: Perry, Center, Harris, Clifton-Bligh, Hassett, Nguyen, McInnes, White, Frost).
• NHMRC APP1141361 (2018-2020): Deregulation of DNA hydroxymethylases Tet1 and Tet2 compromises skeletal integrity during ageing and osteoporosis (Project Grant). CIs: Gronthos, Nguyen, Davis.
• NHMRC APP1102286 (2015-2017): Non-invasive detection of hypoglycaemia in people with diabetes using brain wave activity (Project Grant). Funding: $310,000. (PIs: Nguyen H, Jones T, Nguyen T).
• NHMRC APP1070187 (2014-2016): Fracture associated premature mortality: An international consortium (Project Grant). Funding: $560,558. (PIs: Center, Nguyen, Eisman)
• NHMRC APP1007539 (2012-2014): Prediction of osteoporosis outcomes. Funding: $700,854. (PIs: Nguyen, Center, Eisman).
• NHMRC APP1039085 (2011-2013): Patient specific electronic decision support for the diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis and the prevention of fracture. Funding: $309,262. (PIs: Eisman, Center, Nguyen, Peiris, Selecki).
• NHMRC APP1003612 (2011-2013): Vitamin D, bone loss, fracture and mortality outcome (Project Grant). Funding: $624,310. (PIs: Eisman, Nguyen, Center, Seibel, Sambrook, Elder).
• NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship (2008-2014): Genetics of osteoporosis. Funding: ~$700,000 (PI: Nguyen).
• NHMRC Project Grant (2005-2007): Genetic Prediction of Fractures in a Risk-stratified Population. Funding: $358,125. (PI: Nguyen, Eisman, Center, Esteban).
• NHMRC Project Grant (2004-2006): Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiology Study. Funding: $665,025. (PI: Nguyen, Center, Eisman, Cumming).
• NHMRC Project Grant (2001-2003): MERIT study -- Effectiveness of the Medical Emergency System. Funding: $621,000. (PI: Hillman, Nguyen, Fifer, Doyles).
DSc (Medicine, 2016, UNSW Sydney, Australia)
Thesis: Contributions to Osteoporosis Research.
PhD (Medicine, 1997, UNSW Sydney, Australia)
Thesis: Contribution of Genetic and Environmental Factors to the Determination of Osteoporotic Fractures.
National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Leadership Fellow Level 3 (2020).
Elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (2019)
Elected Fellow of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (2018).
UTS Chancellor's Medal for Exceptional Research (2018)
Professor Honoris Causa of Hanoi Univeristy of Pharmacy (2018)
Distinguished Visiting Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Danang, Vietnam (2017)
Distinguished Visiting Professor, Ton Duc Thang University, Vietnam (2016)
Senior Research Fellow of the Australian National Health Medical Research Council (2008)
Award from the Foreign Minister of Vietnam for contribution to higher education and science in Vietnam.
Garvan's Best Thesis Award (1998). This is an annual award to the best PhD thesis submitted to the University of New South Wales
Excellence in research. University of New South Wales and St Vincent's 7th Research Symposium (1995, 1997)
Selected awards to research students under my supervision:
2018 The Christine and T Jack Martin Award from the IBMS-ANZBMS (International Bone and Mineral Society and Australian New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society (Thao Ho-Le)
2017 Sol Posen Research Paper Award, ANZBMS (Thao Ho-Le)
2017 ASBMR Young Investigator Award (Thao Ho-Le)
2017 UTS High Quality Publication Award (Thao Ho-Le)
2016 Amgen-ANZBMS Outstanding Abstract Award (Thao Ho-Le)
2010 Roger Mellick Young Investigator Award from ANZBMS (Shuman Yang)
2009 The Christine and T Jack Martin Award from the IBMS-ANZBMS (International Bone and Mineral Society and Australian New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society) (Bich Tran).
2009 Solander Award, UNSW Sydney (Bich Tran)
2008 The Harvey Carey Award from the UNSW Sydney (Bich Tran)
2008 Best Research Award, UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine (Steven Frost)
2007 Young Investigator from the ASBMR (American Society for Bone and Mineral Research) (Bich Tran)
2006 ASBMR Young Investigator (Nguyen D. Nguyen)
2006 European Calcified Tissue Society Young Investigator Award (Nguyen D. Nguyen)
2005 IBMS Young Investigator Award (Nguyen D. Nguyen)
2005 ANZBMS Outstanding Poster Award (Nguyen D. Nguyen)
My Research Activities
A large component of my research has been based on two major research projects:
· The Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiology Study (DOES)
· The Vietnam Osteoporosis Study (VOS)
I am a principal investigator of the Dubbo Osteoporosis Study which is commonly referred to as “DOES“. The Study was initiated in 1989, and I joined the research group in 1990. Since its inception, DOES has made important and substantial contributions to the field of osteoporosis internationally. More than 100 papers have been published in international peer–reviewed literature, with more than 10,000 citations.
I have established the Bone and Muscle Research Laboratory at Ton Duc Thang University (Vietnam). The lab is equipped with a dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (Hologic Horizon, USA), a peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT, Stratec, Germany), a system of balance and muscle testing, and a system of digital X-ray for imaging analyses. The lab is also a training ground for doctors and scientists who are interested in (as the name implies) bone and muscle research. He is looking for scientists and doctors who have a good track record of bone research to join the lab.
Current research projects
The long-term goal of my research is to advance understanding of the genomic and non-genomic risk factors for fracture, and to optimise the identification of individuals for appropriate intervention. The specific objectives are to discover novel osteoporosis genes, and to translate these newly identified genetic markers and environmental factors into prognostic models for assessing the risk of fracture and its consequences. I am currently pursuing the following specific projects:
Identification of genes associated with bone loss. In the elderly, age-related loss of bone density is a major determinant of fracture and mortality. However, loss of bone density is highly variable between individuals, such that some individuals can be considered "fast losers" while others do not experience bone loss. Based on my recent work, I hypothesize that bone loss is genetically determined, and that there are multiple genes involved in the regulation of variation in bone loss between individuals. I am interested in conducting whole genome analyses to identify genetic variants that are associated with bone loss.
Identification of metabolites associated with bone loss and bone fracture. Bone loss is determined by both genes and modifiable environmental factors, but most studies so far have focused on the role of genetic factors that explain less than 5% of the difference in bone loss between individuals. In this project, I want to study the effect of environmental factors on bone loss, but instead of focusing on a single environmental factor, he focuses on the entire exposome that includes chemicals from diets, phytochemicals, pharmaceuticals, lipids, the microbiome, and environmental contaminants. From these factors we will construct a personalised 'environmental signature' for predicting bone loss and fracture risk for an individual.
Translation of genetic research into predictive models for fracture risk assessment. One of the most important questions in the genetics of osteoporosis is: how can genetic variants be used to provide a personalised risk assessment of fracture. It is now clear that the risk of fracture is determined by multiple genes, and that the magnitude of association between genetic variants and fracture risk is modest. The underlying hypothesis of this project is that a genetic profiling of multiple genes improves the accuracy of fracture risk prediction over and above that of clinical risk factors. Thus, a line of my research is to translate the discovery of genetic variants to predictive models for assessing the risk of fracture and mortality following a fracture.
Diseasome. Individuals with osteoporosis are commonly found to have co-existing diseases, including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, osteoarthritis, and neurological disorders. It is hypothesized that osteoporosis and its multimorbidities share genes, proteins and pathways that stratify patients in subgroups and their tendency to co-occur together. The primary aims of the project are to (i) construct a network map of co-morbidities associated with osteoporosis; and (ii) determine shared risk factors, environments and genetics, for co-occurrence of diseases. This project makes use of advances in the new scientific disciplines of network medicine, "exposome", and genome. In this project, I want to conduct a network analysis to define the relationship between comorbidities, and then to develop a predictive model that uses comorbidities network to determine the risk of fracture for an individual.
My Research Supervision
Areas of supervision
Osteoporosis; epidemiology; biostatistics