Bone health

Osteoporosis researcher honoured with highest academic award

Tuan Nguyen grad

Professor Tuan Nguyen’s long-standing contribution to osteoporosis research, including the ongoing Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiology Study, has been recognised with a Doctorate of Science from the University of New South Wales.

The doctorate is just the latest in a string of honours for Professor Nguyen, who leads the Genetic Epidemiology of Osteoporosis laboratory in the Bone Biology Division of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

It also represents an enormous lifetime achievement for a man who, as refugee from Vietnam to Australia in the early 1980s, started his working life as a kitchen hand with little English.

Despite more than 25 years of research into the genetic and lifestyle factors that contribute to osteoporosis and bone fractures, Professor Nguyen says there is still much more to learn and apply.

He told the limbic that osteoporosis was still under-recognised and undertreated.

“A lot of people still don’t realise how serious it is, but the reality is that about 20% of women with a hip fracture will die within 12 months.”

“Even those people with non-hip, non-vertebral fractures have an increased risk of further fractures and premature deaths.”

Together with Professor John Eisman, an endocrinologist at St. Vincent’s Hospital and founder of the Dubbo Study, Professor Nguyen created the Garvan Fracture Risk Calculator.

More recent effort has been directed towards incorporating genomic signatures into the calculator.

Professor Nguyen’s nominated some of his publications on personalised prediction of fracture by genetic profiling as perhaps his most important work – read examples here and here – but he is also in interested in the so-called ‘exposome’.

“With all the genetic variants we’ve identified so far, they account for about 10% of the variation in fracture risk between people. The remaining factors have to be our exposure to environmental factors.”

He also hopes to further understand osteoporosis through its links with multiple comorbidities – the ‘diseasesome’ – as well as use mobile and big data technology in adaptive prediction of fracture risk.

While Prof Nguyen was not able to return to Vietnam for nearly 18 years, he has since established a research laboratory at the Ton Duc Thang University and co-founded the Vietnamese Osteoporosis Society.

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