Nguyen’s Research Group

Fracture caused by osteoporosis is a major public health problem in Australia and around the world. The lifetime risk of hip fracture (1/6) is higher than the risk of breast cancer (1/9). Virtually all fractures are associated with decreased life expectancy and reduced quality of life. The annual cost of osteoporosis in Australia is ~$7 billion. Our vision is to make a positive difference in osteoporotic patients’ lives through understanding of genomic variation and non-genomic aetiological factors to differences in osteoporosis susceptibility, and to translate this knowledge into individualised use in clinical practice and public health policy.

Our research focuses on the genetics and epidemiology of osteoporosis. Specifically, we are interested in uncovering risk factors and novel osteoporosis genes, and translating these factors into prognostic models for assessing the risk of fracture and its consequences for an individual. Our lab has demonstrated the association between postural sway, muscle weakness and fracture. We have found a link between fragility fracture and mortality. In recent years, we became interested in translational research with personalised medicine as a guiding principle. We have advanced the idea of individualised risk assessment, and have developed the world’s first nomogram for predicting fracture and hip fracture. This nomogram was subsequently implemented in a dedicated website (www.fractureriskcalculator.com).

In the mid-1990s, through a series of twin studies we have demonstrated the contribution of genetic factors to the variation in bone mineral density. Since then, our own work and international collaboration have identified several genetic variants that are associated with fracture risk. We are interested in the incorporation of the newly identified variants in the individualised fracture risk assessment.

Our research group is consisted of two laboratories (one in Australia and one in Vietnam) that conduct research primarily in osteoporosis. However, in recent years my lab in Vietnam has expanded our research in obesity, diabetes and cancer.

I am very fortunate to have worked with so many talented scientists, postdoc and PhD students over the years. Most of my PhD and postdoc fellows have moved on to become independent researchers. My present team brings together nationally and internationally recognised expertise in osteoporosis, genetics, epidemiology and biostatistics.

In Australia (UTS)

A broad overview of our lab at UTS.

A GE-Lunar DXA densitometer in our lab.

Research Staff

Dr. Thao Ho-Le

Thao is a postdoc fellow working in the project of genomewide association study of bone loss. Thao graduated from UTS with a PhD in Biomedical Engineering. She has a strong background in computer science and bioinformatics with expertise in machine learning and artificial intelligence. For the past 5 years, she has applied her skills in osteoporosis research, with specific focus on the development and evaluation of personalised risk assessment of fracture and development of model for bone loss prediction.She has previously developed the a genetic profiling for bone loss assessment. Thao has authored 15 papers, all in premier journals in the field.

Key publications:

Ho-Le TP, Tran TS, Bliuc D, Pham HM, Frost SA, Center JR, Eisman JA, Nguyen TV. Epidemiological transition to mortality and refracture following an initial fracture. eLife 2021; 10:661142. doi:https://doi.org./10.7554/eLife.61142

Ho-Le TP, Tran HTT, Center JR, Eisman JA, Nguyen HT, Nguyen TV. Assessing the clinical utility of genetic profiling in fracture risk prediction: a decision curve analysis. Osteoporos Int. 2021; 32:271–280.

Ho-Le TP, Center JR, Eisman JA, Nguyen HT, Nguyen TV. Prediction of Bone Mineral Density and Fragility Fracture by Genetic Profiling. J Bone Miner Res. 2016 Sep 20. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.2998.

Dr. Steven Frost (affiliated member)

Steven obtained a PhD in Epidemiology from the University of New South Wales in my Garvan laboratory. He is now the Deputy Director of the South Western Sydney Centre for Applied Nursing Research and a Senior Lecturer at Western Sydney University. He has a strong background in epidemiology and biostatistics, having developed models for predicting bone loss and bone fracture. Steven is working on, among others, a project that aims to prevent refracture among patients with osteoporosis. Steven has published approximately 40 papers in peer-reviewed journals, including some in top journals in the field.

Key publications:

Frost SA, Nguyen ND, Center JR, Eisman JA, Nguyen TV. Excess mortality attributable to hip-fracture: a relative survival analysis. Bone. 2013 Sep;56(1):23-9.

Frost SA, Nguyen ND, Center JR, Eisman JA, Nguyen TV. Timing of repeat BMD measurements: development of an absolute risk-based prognostic model. J Bone Miner Res. 2009 Nov;24(11):1800-7.

Frost SA, Nguyen ND, Black DA, Eisman JA, Nguyen TV. Risk factors for in-hospital post-hip fracture mortality. Bone 2011 Sep;49(3):553-8. Epub 2011 Jun 13.

Dr. Thach Tran

Thach is a medical doctor from Vietnam who has graduated from Vietnam and Thailand with a MD and PhD in epidemiology, repectively. Thach came to my lab many years ago as a visiting scientist, and then decided to settle in Australia. He has a strong background in advanced biostatistics, having worked as a biostatistician in a famous research group in Adelaide. He has been a postdoc fellow (affiliated) in my research group for more than 5 years now. Thach has mainly been working in the epidemiology of osteoporotic fractures and mortality. Has has helped other members of the group in research design, analysis of data, and interpretation of results. He has published more than 50 papers in top journals (eg eLife, PLoS Medicine, Lancet).

Key publications:

Tran TS, Bliuc D, Hensen L, Abrahamsen B, van den Berg J, Eisman JA, van Geel T, Geusen P, Vestergaard P, Nguyen TV, Center JR. Persistence of excess mortality following individual non-hip fractures: A relative survival analysis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2018; 10.1210/jc.2017-02656

Tran TS, Center JR, Seibel MJ, Eisman JA, Kushnir MM, Rockwood AL, Nguyen TV. Relationship between Serum Testosterone and Fracture Risk in Men: A Comparison of RIA and LC-MS/MS. Clin Chem. 2015 Jun 30. pii: clinchem.2015.242339.

Tran TS, Nguyen TV.Association Between Alendronate and All-Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Mortality Among Hip Fracture: An Alternative Explanation. J Bone Miner Res. 2018 Oct;33(10):1906-1907. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.3570. Epub 2018 Sep 6.

Ngoc (Josie) Huynh, PhD student  

Ngoc graduated from Midwestern State University (TX, USA) with a MSc in molecular genetics. She has been awarded a UTS PhD scholarship to undertake her doctoral study in the genomics of bone loss. She has experience in RNA isolation, cell culture, and protein expression analysis. Currently, she is studying the relationship between COLIA1 gene and bone loss in elderly people.

Huy Nguyen, PhD student

Huy is currently a PhD student from Vietnam. He has graduated from UTS with a Bachelor in Biomedical Engineering (Honours) and was admitted to the University’s PhD program. Huy has a strong background in informatics and data analytics. His research project is concerned with the development of an Artificial Intelligence method for diagnosing vertebral fracture using X-ray films. Prior to undertaking PhD study, he has published 4 papers in top peer-reviewed journals.

Key publications:

Nguyen HG, Le NV, Nguyen-Duong KH, Ho-Pham LT, Nguyen TV. Reference values of body composition parameters for Vietnamese men and women. Eur J Clin Nutrition 2021 Jan 18. doi: 10.1038/s41430-020-00840-y.

Nguyen HG, Lieu KB, Ho-Le TP, Ho-Pham LT, Nguyen TV. Discordance between quantitative ultrasound and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry in bone mineral density: The Vietnam Osteoporosis Study. Osteoporos Sarcopenia. 2021 Mar;7(1):6-10. doi: 10.1016/j.afos.2021.03.003. Epub 2021 Mar 20.

Nguyen HG, Pham MT, Ho-Pham LT, Nguyen TV. Lean mass and peak bone mineral density. Osteoporos Sarcopenia. 2020 Dec;6(4):212-216.

Kristel de Dios, PhD student

Kristel graduated from Western Sydney University with a Masters’ (Research) degree in molecular genetics. She has recently joined my research group as a Research Assistant, working on a bone loss project. She has subsequently been awarded a PhD scholarship by UTS, and she is now working on the genetics of bone loss project under my supervision.

Linh Nguyen, MPH student

Linh is a medical doctor from Hanoi, Vietnam. She has just completed an MPH degree from the University of New South Wales’ School of Population Health. Linh has joined by lab for approximately 1 years, working on the effect of obesity on hip fracture (also her thesis).

Tommy Nguyen

Tommy graduated from Danang University (Vietnam), Western Sydney University, and Federation University with a BSc, MBA and MSc, respectively. He is an experienced Data Scientist who is interested in developing AI models for predicting hand fracture on X-ray images. He is currently working on an AI model for predicting osteoarthritis. He has authored 2 proceeding papers in data science.

In Vietnam (Ton Duc Thang University and Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine)

In 2015, with a support from Ton Duc Thang University’s Foundation for Science and Technology Development, I established the Bone and Muscle Research Laboratory (BMRg). The main research lab focuses on osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, sarcopenia, and obesity-related problems. Since 2016, the lab has been conducted the Vietnam Osteoporosis Study (VOS), one of the largest osteoporosis research projects in the world.

Hologic Horizon WI Bone Densitometer | Integrity Medical
Our lab is equipped with state-of-the-art densitometer. Photo: Hologic Horizon DXA system for measuring bone mineral density.
We also have a modern digital X-ray system that allows us to study osteoarthritis and vertebral fracture.

Key staff

Dr. Lan Ho-Pham

Lan is Co-director of the BMRg. She graduated from the University of Medicine and Pharmacy (Ho Chi Minh City) with an MD and MSc in internal medicine. She is a senior rheumatologist and experienced medical researcher. She had been Head of Department of Rheumatology of People’s Hospital 115 from 2009 and 2017. She has been a Senior Lecturer of the Department of Internal Medicine, Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine for more than 15 years. She has made contributions to osteoarthritis, diabetes, and obesity in Vietnam. She was also the first doctor who systematically documented the burden of osteoarthritis in Vietnam through two recent publications. Overall, Lan has published over 37 papers in international peer-reviewed journals, and her papers have attracted 1354 citations (Google Scholar). Her H-index was 17.

Key publications

Ho-Pham LT, Doan MC, Van LH, Nguyen TV. Development of a model for identification of individuals with high risk of osteoporosis. Arch Osteoporos. 2020 Jul 22;15(1):111.

Ho-Pham LT, Chau PMN, Do AT, Nguyen HC, Nguyen TV. Type 2 diabetes is associated with higher trabecular bone density but lower cortical bone density: the Vietnam Osteoporosis Study. Osteoporos Int. 2018 Sep;29(9):2059-2067.

Ho-Pham LT, Nguyen UD, Nguyen TV. Association between lean mass, fat mass, and bone mineral density: a meta-analysis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Jan;99(1):30-8.

Ho-Pham LT, Nguyen ND, Nguyen TV. Effect of vegetarian diets on bone mineral density: a Bayesian meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Oct;90(4):943-50.

Dr. Bich Tran

Bich is an affiliated member of the BMRg. Bich obtained her PhD in genetics of osteoporosis from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and UNSW Sydney under my supervision. After a stint of postdoc at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) she joined the UNSW School of Population Health, and then NSW Department of Health. Bich has a strong background in molecular genetics, biostatistics and population epidemiology. Bich has published more than 40 papers, mostly in prestigious journals in the field of bone biology. At present, she is working on a cancer genomics project, a collaborative research with the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins University. The primary aim of the project is to create a genomic signature for predicting cancer in Vietnamese people.

Key publications:

Tran B, Nguyen ND, Center JR, Eisman JA, Nguyen TV. Association between fat-mass-and-obesity-associated (FTO) gene and hip fracture susceptibility. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2014 Aug;81(2):210-7.

Tran BN, Nguyen ND, Nguyen VX, Center JR, Eisman JA, Nguyen TV. Genetic profiling and individualized prognosis of fracture. J Bone Miner Res 2011 Feb;26(2):414-9. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.219.

Tran BN, Nguyen ND, Center JR, Eisman JA, Nguyen TV. Enhancement of absolute fracture risk prognosis with genetic marker: the collagen I alpha 1 gene. Calcif Tissue Int. 2009 Nov;85(5):379-88.

Dr. Linh Duy Mai

Linh is a medical doctor graduated from the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine. Linh has been a member of BMRg for more than 5 years. He is primarily responsible for the measurement of bone mineral density of participants in the Vietnam Osteoporosis Study project. Linh has published about 10 papers in mostly premier journals in the field.

Dr. Minh Cong Doan

Minh graduated from the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine with an MD. Minh has been a long term member of BMRg since his medical school days. He is primarily responsible for the coordination of VOS and sarcopenia research. Minh has published about 10 papers in mostly premier journals in the field of bone health and osteoporosis.

Dr. Duy Khuong Hoang

Khuong graduated from the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine with an MD. He has been a member of BMRg and is responsible for the mechanography assessment of alls. He has experience in the measurement of muscle strengths and fall assessment using the Leonardo Mechanography system. He has published 2 papers, including the one in the prestigious Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle (one of the top 10 journals in internal medicine and geriatric medicine).

Publications:

Hoang DK, Le MN, Vo-Thi UP, Nguyen HG, Ho-Pham LT, Nguyen TV. Mechanography assessment of fall risk in older adults the Vietnam Osteoporosis Study. Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle. Published online 30/6/2021. Role: In his paper, I conceived the idea, set up plan of data collection, writed up the plan of analysis, performed data analysis, and drafted the manuscript. The Journal is ranked as one of the top 10 journals in internal medicine and geriatric medicine (IF 12.9). https://doi.org/10.1002/jcsm.12751

Hoang DK, Doan MC, Mai LD, Ho-Le TP, Ho-Pham LT. Burden of osteoporosis in Vietnam: an analysis of population risk. PLOS ONE. 2021;16(6): e0252592. Role: In this paper, conceived the idea, set up plan of data collection, writed up the plan of analysis, performed data analysis, and drafted the manuscript. PLoS ONE is a leading Open Access journal for multidisciplinary science (IF 3.2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0252592

Dr Hoa Thai Nguyen

Hoa is a PhD student of Hue University of Medicine, working on the risk factors for vertebral fractures. He has strong background in clinical medicine and epidemiology. He is now working with Huy Nguyen (UTS lab) to develop a Machine Learning model for the diagnosis of vertebral fractures in Vietnam.

The BMRg has been supported by many friends, colleagues and students. I would like to acknowledge the valuable help of Ms Trần Thị Ngọc Trang amd Fr Phạm Bá Lãm who have coordinatedthe the recruitment of participants for the VOS project. Without their help we could not have achieved the project so far. 

Miss Huynh Ngoc Anh Thy

Anh Thy is currently a medical student of the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine. She has been working in VOS for more than 2 years, and is responsible for the coordination of recruitment of participants.

Miss Phan Thi Tuyet Nhi

Tuyet Nhi is currently a third year medical student of the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine. Prior to stuyding medicine, she had gradated from the Vietnam National University of Ho Chi Minh City as a BSc in biology. She helps DXA measurements.

Mr Tran Thanh Huy

Huy is currently a third year medical student of the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine. He has been with VOS for more than 3 years, and is responsible for image analysis.

Dr. Huynh Nhu

Nhu graduated from the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine in 2019. She has been working with VOS for more than 3 years and is now responsible for coordinating the recruitment of participants.

Our lab has acquired a pQCT system that allows us to assess 3D bone structure. This the only one pQCT in Vietnam.

Ultrasound system for measuring speed of sound through bone.

In addition, our lab has installed a mechanography system that allows us to study fall propensity in the elderly.

A doctor is interviewing a VOS participant to obtain information pertaining to his lifestyle, drinking and eating habit while a trainee is looking on.

Cancer research group

In addition to research into musculoskeletal health, we have recently expanded our research in cancer. Cancer is a major public health issue in Vietnam, but it has largely understudied. Our primary aim is to gain insights into risk factors associated with cancer in the Vietnamese population, and to create a genomic signature for predicting the risk of major cancers in the population.

We conduct case-control and cohort studies in Ho Chi Minh City. We are currently collaborating with the Ludwig Center of Johns Hopkins University for the genomic work. Our major collaborators are Professor Bert Vogelstein, Professor Nickolas Papadopoulos, and Professor Kenneth Kinzler.

Our key staff are:

Dr. Hien D. Nguyen

Hien graduated from the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine in 2019. Hien is working on the project of epidemiology of cancer in Ho Chi Minh City. He has just published a paper in BMC Cancer: “Trends in incidence and histological pattern of thyroid cancer in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (1996–2015): a population-based study”.

Dr. Phung Hoang Thuy An

Thuy An graduated from the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine with an MD. She has been with the Cancer Research Group for more than 2 years. She is responsible for the analysis of risk factors for breast cancer.

Ha Pham Yen Vi

Yen Vi graduated with a MSc in biochemistry. She is responsible for the collection and processing of samples for the cancer genomic project. She has been with VOS since 2015.

Nguyen Hong Ngoc Quynh

Quynh graduated from the National University of Singapore with a BSc in computer science. She is responsible for the management of database and data analysis within the VOS project.

Dr. Pham Thi Ngoc Hieu

Hieu graduated from the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine. She has been working with VOS for more than 3 years and is now responsible for X-ray and image analysis.

Tran Thanh Son

Son graduated from the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine with a BSc in laboratory medicine. He is responsible for the pQCT measurement of bone.

In the news …

Our work has attracted media attention around the world. Here are some recent media engagements from our work.

A ‘skeletal age’ calculator to predict bone fracture risk

NHMRC Investigator Grants for Garvan researchers

Osteoporosis: Garvan’s Fracture Risk Calculator turns 10

Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiology Study

Outwitting the ‘silent thief’: how clues in our genes could help prevent osteoporotic fracture

Know Your Bones: new online bone health assessment tool launches

Study shows high prevalence of knee osteoarthritis in Vietnam

Beta-blocker use protects bone health

Simple diagnostic tool predicts Type 2 diabetes in South East Asians

Why measuring absolute risk of fracture could save many broken bones

Summarising a fractured debate about meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and bones

When to get your bone density measured – that is the question

Vegan Buddhist nuns have same bone density as non-vegetarians

Study shows that prostate cancer increases the risk of bone fracture

Web-based tool to predict risk of bone fracture

Low testosterone in men doubles their risk of bone fracture

https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/fractures-are-linked-to-deaths-in-older-people-why

Fractures can be deadly. Why is preventive action rare?

What’s your skeletal age? It may well be much older than your date of birth – especially if you have osteoporosis or a fracture.

Elderly woman with broken arm
Fractures can be very serious for older people – how can they be averted?

It is well established that older people who have a fracture are significantly more likely to die within a year.
 
A fragility fracture sends the risk of premature death skyrocketing, rising by around 50% in both men and women. Hip fractures are particularly dangerous, with 33% of adults over 50 dying within a year of fracturing their hips.
 
Fractures are not uncommon – they will happen to half of all women over the age of 50, and one third of men. The lifetime risk of a hip fracture in women (almost 20%) is likely higher than the risk of developing breast cancer (around 14%), and fracturing a bone also doubles your risk of subsequent fractures.
 
Around 80% of all fractures are in people aged over 50. And yet, only 20% of people with a fragility fracture take osteoporosis treatments to lower their future risk.
 
Why, asks Professor Tuan Nguyen, is there seeming complacency around this risk?
 
‘This is something people don’t realise – people with a fracture have a higher risk of death,’ he told newsGP.
 
Healthy Bones Australia estimates 173,000 bones were broken in Australia last year, with almost 4% of the population living with osteoporosis.
 
In a bid to increase patient knowledge of their risks, Professor Nguyen and his team at the Genetic Epidemiology of Osteoporosis Lab at the Garvan Institute have released new research which estimates a patient’s skeletal age.
 
Skeletal age provides an estimate of bone health based on chronological age, bone density and any previous fractures.
 
For instance, a 70-year-old man with one fracture would have a skeletal age of 75 using this calculator. But if he had a second fracture, he would go to having the same fracture risk as an 87-year-old man with a healthy risk profile.
 
‘I hope by conveying this information to patients and the community that people may undertake actions to prevent further fractures and mortality,’ Professor Nguyen said.
 
‘It’s never too early to think about your bone health. Do not wait until a fracture has occurred to take preventive action. If your skeletal age is higher than your actual age, you should seek medical advice from your doctor on how to manage the higher risk.
 
‘People aged 50 and older can use this calculator and discuss it with their GP. This way I hope we can have more evidence-based and frank discussions about mortality [and fractures]. The problem at the moment is up to 80% of people with a fracture do not receive enough treatment.
 
‘There are concerns out there that treatments for osteoporosis may lead to more fractures, but that is for a very small proportion.
 
‘We know that treatment can reduce mortality by up to 28%. And yet people still do not receive treatment.’
 
Professor Nguyen’s goal is to have patients and GPs turning to the calculator to figure out their levels of risk – and then putting in place protective measures, such as taking preventive medication after a fracture, as well as exercise, ensuring enough dietary calcium and adequate vitamin D.
 
‘Bone is not a static tissue. It responds to weight-bearing exercise,’ he said.
 
‘Take astronauts – after two weeks in zero gravity, they can lose up to 10% of their bone. That’s why when they land, we do not allow them to walk – they have to be carried away. So physical activity is very good.’
 
Lead author of the paper, Dr Thao Ho-Le, noted that the work was designed to build on existing models to predict the risk of a first fracture – such as the Garvan Fracture Risk Calculator
 
‘It remains unclear why some individuals do well after an initial fracture, while others go on to sustain further fractures and have a higher risk of mortality,’ she said.
 
‘We set out to develop a model to complement existing tools, which could simultaneously predict an individual’s risk of subsequent fractures and consequently, their chance of premature death.’
 
The calculator is based on data from the world’s longest running osteoporosis study, which has tracked people in Dubbo, NSW, since 1989, and followed them up to determine their risk.
 
The team will release a publicly available skeletal age calculator online in coming months.

https://vietnamnet.vn/en/sci-tech-environment/award-winning-doctor-wins-global-recognition-for-osteoporosis-research-580107.html

Award-winning doctor wins global recognition for osteoporosis research

Dr Ho Pham Thuc Lan began her medical career in an unconventional way.

Award-winning doctor wins global recognition for osteoporosis research
Dr Ho Pham Thuc Lan teaching students at Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine in HCM City. VNS Photo Dinh Hang

“When I was in high school, my younger sister became severely ill and had to be hospitalised. An attending doctor told my parents to take her home because my parents couldn’t afford the cost of treatment,” Lan recalls. 

“I was shocked to see such a cold-hearted attitude from a doctor. Right at that moment, I became determined to become a doctor one day. I promised myself that I would never say the same thing to my patients.”

Today, as a teacher at Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine, Lan has won local recognition as well as international acclaim.

After graduating from the University of Medicine and Pharmacy of HCM City, Lan worked at People’s Hospital 115 where she met patients with all sorts of diagnoses. Many of the cases were not curable, but some were preventable.

“I regard the elimination of suffering as an important role. We doctors can eliminate or reduce suffering by using affordable treatments. We can also help reduce patients’ pain by showing empathy. I found that the behaviours of touching, listening, talking and smiling can positively contribute to patients’ well-being,” she said.

Osteoporosis research

During her career, Lan has treated many patients with severe complications caused by osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

“That’s why I have focused my research on these disorders,” she says, adding that more than 1,000 volunteers have been involved in her research efforts.

“I start with simple questions, like finding out how many people have osteoporosis, and how and why the disease began, and then move on to more advanced questions such as the criteria used in diagnosis or whether diabetes is related to bone health.”

Her research has attempted to address these questions, many of which are based on real-world observations. “I asked myself, for example, whether vegans have a higher risk of osteoporosis than non-vegans.”

Lan’s research on veganism and its possible relation to osteoporosis and vertebral fracture showed that veganism does not adversely affect bone health.

She presented her research at the 2nd Congress of the Strong Bone Asia Conference in 2008, and subsequently published her findings in a prestigious journal, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“My paper has received more than 160 citations from colleagues worldwide,” she says.

Since no organisation would fund her study, Lan had to pay for it herself. But her research results and international recognition led authorities to fund subsequent projects.

At the time she conducted her research on osteoporosis, only a few studies on the topic had been done in Vietnam. There was little information about the risk factors for osteoporosis or the magnitude of the problem in the country.

“My colleagues and I carried out a large-scale study to fill the gaps in knowledge. We also examined the effects of genes and environmental factors on osteoporosis,” she says.

Her studies showed that the prevalence of osteoporosis in Vietnamese aged 50 years and older was 28 per cent for women and 11 per cent for men.

Many of her studies, which were the first done in Vietnam, contributed to insights into the diseases, leading to better practice and diagnoses.

One of her studies involved research on genes that affect the bone size of Vietnamese. The collaborative research was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications.
Another research study, on the association between diabetes and bone density, showed that diabetic patients had high trabecular (sponge-like) bone density but lower cortical (hard) bone density. The study was published in the journal Osteoporosis International last year.

Lifelong learner

Lan is also keen to improve the presence of the work of Vietnamese scientists in the international arena, and has done her part to present her work at international scientific conferences and fora.

“Compared to other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, Vietnam has had a modest presence in the medical literature and in international scientific fora,” Lan says.

Besides doing research, she has shared her research findings with the general community. Four years ago, she launched a community health programme to provide free counselling and health examination on the weekends to people in District 7.

She also set up the website http://www.suckhoexuong.vn to provide useful and science-based information about osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

As a lifelong learner, Lan always enjoys learning something new as part of her research. “Research is very useful because it provides an opportunity to learn the latest knowledge, and it’s wonderful to see students get involved in research.”

Asked about her challenges, she says that funding is the major problem.

Because she does not have a PhD, Lan was not eligible to apply for funding from the National Foundation for Science and Technology Development. Ton Duc Thang University and the city’s Department of Science and Technology have funded her research projects over the past 10 years.

Cancer research

Currently, she is turning her attention to cancer. In Vietnam, most cancer patients admitted to hospitals for treatment are in the late stages of the disease. Lan and her colleagues at Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine are conducting a major research project to improve early diagnosis of cancer.


The project involves the collaboration of the Oncology Hospital of HCM City, Binh Dan Hospital, University Medical Centre, Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia, and Johns Hopkins University’s Centre for Genetics and Oncology Treatment in the US.

Lan has received many awards for her research. This year, she was recognised with the 2019 Vietnamese Women Award. Previously, she was awarded the L’Oreal – Unesco 2015 Prize, the Alexandre Yersin Award for Outstanding Publication, and the HCM City Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Association Prize for Excellence in Medical Research. VNS

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