Dr Van Vu
Newcastle Business School
- Phone:(02) 4913 8049
Better health for mums and babies
Dr Rebecca Vanders’ work is contributing to innovative new treatments for pregnant women, their babies, and those trying to conceive.
Rebecca is a passionate women’s health advocate. Her research is specifically focused on maternal health issues, including infertility caused by endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome, the effects of cigarette smoking during pregnancy, and maternal immune system changes. Above all, Rebecca’s work is about helping pregnant women and their babies stay healthy.
“My ultimate research goal is for women to be able to have a successful pregnancy from conception to birth and that children born to these women have a high quality of life.”
Combating maternal health vulnerabilities
Rebecca’s current research seeks to understand why pregnant women are more vulnerable to serious respiratory virus infections, such as influenza, and how their health can be protected through targeted, safe interventions.
“During every respiratory pandemic, pregnant women—especially those with underlying comorbidities like asthma—rank amongst the highest mortality rates of all susceptible groups.”
Throughout pregnancy, a woman’s immune system naturally alters to accommodate the presence of her growing baby. Slightly lowered defence mechanisms allow a baby to grow healthily—so the mum’s immune system doesn’t attack the new life—but it also leaves expecting mums vulnerable to certain viruses, like respiratory infections.
“These viruses can take advantage of the woman’s altered state, negatively affecting her health during pregnancy.”
As yet, researchers don’t know exactly how changes to the maternal immune system increase a woman’s risk of experiencing serious complications caused by respiratory virus infections. But by examining how key antiviral cells change during pregnancy, Rebecca is uncovering new insights into how our bodies work—and what’s causing maternal health vulnerabilities.
“We have found that, during pregnancy, respiratory virus infections such as the flu cause certain cells to become ‘exhausted’. This prevents cells from functioning properly to fight off the infection.
“Understanding how the immune system is altered following viral infection can allow us to design effective intervention strategies to save lives for both mothers and their unborn babies.”
Designing safer treatment options
Based on their research findings, Rebecca and her team are working on a new therapy to reverse cellular exhaustion during pregnancy, allowing key immune cells to fight off invading pathogens.
“If we can develop a treatment for pregnant women that protects them from the adverse outcomes of respiratory virus infections, especially during pandemics, this would quite literally save their lives."
“So far, the therapy has proved to not only improve a woman’s immune responses to the virus infection, it also has flow-on benefits for their children that we’re only just beginning to understand.”
For most expecting mothers, their baby’s safety is top of mind. So when health challenges strike, it can be difficult for women to know which treatments are safe, both for themselves and their little ones.
“When developing new treatments, one of our biggest challenges is to create strategies that are not only completely safe during pregnancy but that pregnant women will feel comfortable taking.”
Rebecca and her team are determined to meet these challenges head-on. Their newly designed therapy to help safeguard expecting mothers from deadly respiratory infections has already showed promising results, which are due to be published in 2019. Over the next year, the therapy will continue to undergo further refinements.
Hope for the future
Rebecca’s work is providing critical hope to millions of women. It’s also contributing to important, and potentially life-saving, conversations worldwide. In recent years, Rebecca has presented at national and international conferences, authored multiple papers, and received two fellowships, including the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand Astra Zeneca Early Career Research Fellowship and and a highly competitive NHMRC Early Career Fellowship.
In 2018, Rebecca was among 15 highly talented researchers invited to participate in the University’s ThinkWell Early and Mid-Career Women’s Development Program, facilitated through the Faculty of Health and Medicine's Gender Equity Committee. The invitation was a nod to Rebecca’s evident career success so far—and served to further cement her research ambitions.
“In my opinion, pregnancy is the most wonderfully fascinating and complicated immune state created in a women’s body. It is so perfectly designed and yet so complicated to understand—which is both exciting and motivating!"
“I feel proud and humbled to be working in a research area that is helping to save the lives of mothers and their unborn children.”
A surprise opportunity
When Dr Kim van Netten sat for an undergraduate industry scholarship interview at the start of her degree, she definitely didn’t expect the outcome to lead her to where she stands today.
“The interview went terribly, it was horrible.”
“But Professor Kevin Galvin was on the panel and he must have seen something in me because he offered me an ongoing research scholarship instead.”
Throughout her Bachelor’s degree at UON, Kim spent one day a week conducting research with Kevin’s chemical engineering team.
“Before that I had never even considered research.”
“I just thought combining study with work might be a good thing to do. But working in the lab really introduced me quite early on to what the research environment is like and I really enjoyed it.”
“So I stuck with it. I gave my first national conference presentation as a second year undergraduate.”
Research alongside industry
Once she had completed her Bachelor and Honours degrees, Kim was all set to start her PhD in the field of particle separation.
“My project was based on an idea Kevin had just before I started, so I was the first one to work on it.”
“We work closely with industry - that's one of Kevin's strengths, he makes sure that we're moving in the same direction that the industry needs.”
In the process of mining for minerals, the ore is first taken from the ground and crushed to liberate the minerals of interest. The mixture of minerals and low-value materials then needs to be separated.
Traditionally, froth flotation is used, which firstly requires the valuable mineral particles to be hydrophobic, to repel water, then air bubbles are added to extract the particles. The valuable particles float upwards, joined to the air bubbles, for easy removal.
However, due to the falling quality of mineral deposits and increased demand for metals, this highly effective technology is starting to reach its limit.
“In our research, we have replaced the air bubbles with a selective binder which has a hydrophobic surface. It’s actually more like a gel than a bubble, and is 95% water.”
“With intense mixing, we see large agglomerates of the hydrophobic particles form in seconds.”
Following each experimental separation, Kim runs her final product over a screen to recover the agglomerates for further analysis.
“It probably took me about six months to figure out what I was doing!”
“Since then I have been able to optimise the binder – I would try different things to see their effect on the final product until I found the combination of conditions that was the most successful.”
“It’s not a complex process at all – but it turns out the mechanisms behind it are very complicated. We can do it but we are only just learning now how it works.”
As she now has a doctorate student to help her with this fundamental study, Kim is focussing on streamlining the process so it can be used in industry.
“Everything I have done in the lab up until now has been on a batch scale, but if it’s going to be used in industry then it needs to be part of a continuous process.”
International collaboration and recognition
Kim started working on this part of the challenge just before she completed her thesis, when she was invited to a platinum mine in South Africa to test out her process on their real feeds.
“The work was really good and I really enjoyed it.”
“But one of the main things I took away from that experience was there was still a lot to be done!”
Kim’s work has also been recognised internationally – she won the first Australian Falling Walls Lab competition run by the Australian Academy of Science, with her three-minute presentation on her research. This took her to Berlin to compete with other finalists from all over the world.
“I nearly went insane trying to prepare my speech.”
“You have to appeal to a general audience, describe the problem, present the solution in terms of the science, and outline the way ahead, all in about 300 words.
“I think that's a valuable exercise for any researcher to do because it teaches you to communicate science to an audience.”
Exploring the benefits from nature, and exploiting natural waste
A scientific forager with a culinary mind, Dr Quan Vuong is looking to prove there's much to benefit from understanding natural foods and industrial waste salvage, than is currently the case.
Dr Quan Vuong is exploring the benefits from a diversified array of natural products. His research interest is on compounds that have potent antioxidant capacity, and effective biological actions on human health, and which can be utilised in pharmaceutical and neutraceutical industries.
"I focus on identification, extraction and purification of bioactive compounds from various natural sources, such as medicinal plants, native flora and marine materials, as well as from the waste generated by agricultural and food production," the enthusiastic academic asserts.
"Though these constituents typically occur in small quantities, they often have big impacts on our health. They have been linked with prevention of cardiovascular diseases, microbial diseases, diabetes, obesity and certain types of cancer. Currently, 45 per cent of all anticancer drugs are derived directly or indirectly from plant compounds."
"In addition, as potent antioxidants, these compounds can prevent microbial growth, minimise the lipid oxidation, thus they have been fortified in foods to extend the shelf-life".
Tea and serendipity
Quan's research career began in 2008 when he commenced a PhD at the University of Newcastle. Capitalising on the "huge potential" of green tea, the four-year probe sought to produce safe, cheap and effective methods for the production of decaffeinated green tea and tea powder extracts.
"I developed a novel method to remove caffeine from tea," he recalls.
"I also established effective methods for the production of caffeine, decaffeinated green tea and decaffeinated green tea powders to meet changing market demands."
Quan established the optimal conditions for novel means of extracting, isolating and purifying the important components of green tea during his candidature, using a Preparative High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) System. Under these optimal conditions, all of the major bioactive compounds such as L-theanine and individual catechins, were effectively isolated for further utilisation.
"My goal is, and always has been, to add value to natural foods," he says.
Quan continued at the University after receiving his award in 2012, signing on to become a postdoctoral fellow and later a lecturer within the School of Environmental and Life Sciences. The expert has since pioneered a handful of successful research projects at the Ourimbah campus, most recently exploring the health properties and other benefits of Australian native flora.
Passionate about eucalyptus, which is mainly native to Australia, Quan is seeking to take advantage of this native plant exploring the potential within its 800 different species.
"We should be screening to find the specific eucalyptus species with the best aroma or highest level of essential oils," he shares.
"With more than 800 species, I think Australia has great potential for eucalyptus essential oil production. At present, essential eucalyptus oils have been widely used in the food, cosmetic or pharmaceutical industry."
Describing Australia as "a big, beautiful island," Quan is in the process of building a comprehensive knowledge base of its other native flora. As an island continent with diversified climatic conditions, Australia has a great advantage due to its unique botanical mixture, as many plants are only found here.
"Australia has huge potential for the discovery of important bioactive compounds," Quan states.
"Native Aboriginal people have long been using these flora as food and traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments – the West is only just starting to catch on."
In addition, Quan has conducted studies on other Australian native flora such as Davidson' plum, maroon Bush Scaevola spinescens, lilly pilly and blueberry ash. These plant species have high levels of antioxidants and capacity for use in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.
Worth from Waste
A large quantity of waste is generated from agricultural and food production, potentially impacting humans, animals and the environment. Quan's interest in recovering bioactive compounds from waste for further utilisation could reduce the environmental risks and simultaneously add value for the food industry.
"Companies spend an awful lot of money on food waste treatment. We hope to reduce this burden by removing and repurposing by-products," he affirms.
One of his recent projects is recovering bioactive compounds from waste produced in the macadamia industry.
"Australia is the world's biggest exporter of macadamia nuts with production of around 300 thousand tonnes a year, of which skin and husk account for 80 per cent, but they are waste, and hence discarded. Our goal is to recover bioactive compounds from this waste for further utilisation," he says.
Hoping to use the husk as an edible coating for perishable products, Quan is collaborating with other researchers and research students on scientific approaches to isolation and application.
"Fresh fruit and vegetables have a respiration cycle just like humans, so they are alive and have a defined shelf life," he explains.
"We are trying to extend this shelf life with an edible coating, however the current technology for this has major limitations when applied to fresh produce. We hope to improve and overcome these limitations by using the bioactive compounds isolated from the waste of the nut industry. For example, lignins isolated from the macadamia husk can be added to the edible film to improve its mechanical properties and to inhibit microbial activity, thus they can improve the shelf-life of fresh produce."
In addition, Quan is also working on the recovery of bioactive compounds from waste generated in the juice industry.
"We're trying to develop safe and effective methods to recover the important bioactive compounds from waste generated from the juice factories, to use in functional foods or the pharmaceutical industry," Quan elaborates.
In all these endeavours, Quan is collaborating with a range of academics, and industrial partners, including active supervision of Honours, Master and PhD students from different countries.
A scientific forager with a culinary mind, Dr Quan Vuong is looking to prove there's much to benefit from understanding natural foods and industrial waste sal
Tess van Weerdenburg
Tess joined the University in January 2014, having previously worked for a Supreme Court Judge and as a dispute resolution lawyer for two leading law firms and the Federal Government.
As part of her role at the University, Tess works closely with the Academic Division to provide advice on complex cases and the key policies and processes that impact upon the way that the University engages with its students. Tess also advises on a range of matters including commercial and international contracts, administrative law, dispute resolution, compliance and University policy and procedures.
Tess holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) and a Bachelor of Arts (French and Spanish) from the University of Queensland as well as a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice from the College of Law. In 2014, Tess was awarded a Master of Public and International Law from the University of Melbourne.
Tess is admitted to practice in the High Court of Australia, the Supreme Court of New South Wales and the Supreme Court of Queensland.
Rethinking chronic lung disease
Falling under the umbrella term of 'multidimensional assessment and individualised management,' Professor Vanessa McDonald's clinical research is helping to engineer a shift in the way patients with long-term respiratory problems are diagnosed and treated.
By all measures, McDonald is a prolific performer. Though just a few years out of her doctoral studies, the early career researcher has already procured a number of competitive grants, fellowships and scholarships, as well as a publication catalogue worthy of senior academics. She's also achieved marked success closer to home, winning the Vice-Chancellor's Researcher of the Year Award for 2014.
For a long time however, this wasn't the plan. McDonald took an unusual academic pathway to get to where she is at the Hunter Medical Research Institute, spending years as a clinical nurse consultant in respiratory medicine before deciding to undertake a PhD in the late 2000s.
'It was this first role that inspired the second one,' she reveals.
'Problems with approaches to management sparked my research interest in patients with lung disease.'
Still working clinically to 'maintain creativity and currency in terms of generating research ideas,' the esteemed educator and investigator is a master of many trades. She's working with and for patients suffering from complex respiratory conditions in all of these endeavours, focusing principally on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the overlap of asthma and COPD in older populations, and bronchiectasis. McDonald is also especially interested in advancing care options for those with severe asthma.
There's a small group of patients with severe asthma who are refractory to treatment – we can throw as much traditional asthma medication at them as we like, but they're not going to respond.
'These are the people who have a huge but often preventable healthcare burden, yet little research has been done on management approaches for them.'
McDonald is examining respiratory problems from multiple perspectives in her research, concentrating on the pathophysiological components, functional and psychosocial needs of individual patients. This inventive quadrant approach, which encompasses comorbidity, risk factors, self-management and management of the airways, similarly serves to improve outcomes and help translate findings into scalable and fundable practice.
'Most clinical trials tend to recruit people with pure asthma for asthma studies, and pure COPD for COPD studies, but in the real world when we sit down with a patient, often their diagnosis is impure,' she explains.
'There's usually overlap.'
'Clinical trials generate evidence that informs us on how to manage health conditions, but due to strict inclusion and exclusion criteria they often don't translate to the person sitting in front of us.'
McDonald characterised asthma and COPD overlap in the older person during her PhD candidature, focusing on the 'usually excluded' population with support from a National Health and Medical Research Council Centre for Respiratory and Sleep Medicine Scholarship. This research area involved collecting data from several sources to inform an intervention for a randomised control trial.
'I undertook qualitative analyses to develop insight into patient needs and healthcare experiences, as well as a cross-sectional study to understand what the population looks like,' she states.
'I then developed an intervention that was piloted in a clinical trial.'
This multidimensional assessment and individualised management study delivered targeted treatments to the individual problems identified, including inflammatory phenotypes, comorbidities and risk factors.
'For example if participants had airway inflammation, the pharmacotherapy was individualised to that phenotype,' she advises.
'If they showed signs of anxiety or depression they underwent cognitive behaviour therapy, and if they were nicotine-dependent they underwent a smoking intervention.'
With results deemed 'quite outstanding' in terms of their impact on health status, McDonald's PhD was published in a top respiratory journal, Thorax, in early 2013.
'The findings demonstrated an improvement in health status that were three times the minimally clinically important difference,' she asserts.
'The intervention also improved the inflammatory processes and the number of exacerbations the patients experienced.'
The principal researcher in the University of Newcastle's Priority Research Centre for Asthma and Respiratory Disease has since followed up on this research, undertaking new studies to see whether the model is transferrable to a 'generally younger' severe asthma population.
A closer look at COPD
McDonald is continuing to develop a large and impressive body of work out of her PhD thesis. She's the current recipient of the Lung Foundation of Australia's Research Fellowship, awarded annually to one academic from any medical, scientific or allied health background, and is currently using it to fund a study on medication options for patients with COPD.
'We are examining the inflammatory phenotypes of individual patients and targeting pharmacotherapy to these processes,' she clarifies.
'Drugs are used to control eosinophilic and neutrophilic airway inflammation.'
'Medication typically used in cardiovascular diseases, but which we know reduces the degree of systemic inflammation and improves outcomes in COPD, are also being used.'
The co-convenor of the Thoracic Society Australia and New Zealand Special Interest Group has devised a randomised control trial to test this approach, with the intervention group receiving active drugs to match their number of inflammatory phenotypes, and the control group receiving a placebo. Having established a national profile and an emerging international profile, McDonald is also evaluating the health status assessment of COPD patients with St George's London Hospital Professor of Medicine, Paul Jones.
In another offshoot of her PhD, McDonald is undertaking evaluations of a weight loss trial in COPD patients.
'We know that obesity has deleterious health effects, but there's an interesting paradox that exists in COPD where obese patients have better survival than those who are normal or underweight or even just a little overweight,' she discloses.
'It could be that maintenance of muscle mass plays a key role in this, though we're not certain.'
'At present there are no treatment recommendations for this population and advising COPD patients to lose weight could actually be doing harm.'
Coupled with a resistance-training program, the weight loss intervention was found to be successful in both achieving weight loss and maintaining muscle mass. It also resulted in improvements in health status, lung function and ability to carry out daily tasks.
'This pilot study is a proof of concept,' she explains.
'Now we're publishing the data and looking at obtaining an external grant to conduct a larger study and test its true efficacy.'
The energetic academic is simultaneously involved in several current and interdisciplinary collaborations. She's working on a national University of Adelaide-led study on opioids and their potential to improving the exercise capacity of COPD patients within pulmonary rehabilitation programs, and with Laureate Professor Rob Sanson-Fisher from Public Health on a grant for a COPD self-management intervention using online tools.
An equity imperative
Observing 'limited evidence' for COPD treatment guidelines and recommendations for the management of comorbidity, McDonald is also supervising a PhD student to better understand the disease and its comorbidities.
'There's a whole gamut – obesity, anxiety and depression, skeletal muscle dysfunction, and cardiovascular disease,' she declares.
'So we're looking at measurement tools, comorbidity mechanisms, how they relate with each other and their impact on outcomes.'
'This will help us develop novel approaches to comorbidity management in COPD.'
Juggling many projects at once, McDonald and her colleagues are developing a new research area with another PhD student. This time around, the team is exploring sedentary behaviours in people with severe asthma and bronchiectasis.
McDonald is in the process of recruiting patients for the study, which aims to get snapshots of severe asthma and bronchiectasis by 'objectively measuring' how much sufferers exercise throughout the day and how much of the time they are sedentary. The Australian Pulmonary Rehab Guidelines Committee member will then relate data collected from the individual activity monitors to disease phenotypes and outcomes, such as inflammation and health status.
Recognising the futility of applying general population interventions to people with bronchiectasis and severe asthma, McDonald's team will use all of this information to develop and trial a tailor-made behavioural change intervention.
'We want patients to be more active, but we also need to accept that they're often limited by breathlessness, muscle wasting and other comorbid factors.'
Beyond the here and now
Similarly recognising the futility of only undertaking short-term research in this field, McDonald is leading a longitudinal study of patients with bronchiectasis.
'There are few long-term data of this population and determinants of decline,' she admits.
'So I'm following up patients every year for five years to track their progress.'
More recently, McDonald was part of the team that received a $2.5 million National Health and Medical Research Council grant to establish a Centre of Research Excellence in Severe Asthma. It's part of a collaboration led by Professor Peter Gibson involving national researchers from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.
'We will seek to improve knowledge of severe asthma and its management and focus on training a new group of severe asthma researchers,' she conveys.
'We will also develop an implementation framework to translate this new knowledge into practice.'
Van joined the Newcastle Business School as a lecturer in November 2015, after completing her PhD at Monash University. Her main research interest includes issues related to bank loan contracts, bond contracts, and the choice between public and private debt finance. Her other research interests include corporate liquidity management and recently market micro-structure.
- Doctor of Philosophy, Monash University
- Bachelor of Commerce (Honours), Monash University
- Bachelor of Business, Monash University
- corporate finance
- debt contracting
- securities issuance
- Vietnamese (Mother)
- English (Fluent)
Fields of Research
|150203||Financial Institutions (incl. Banking)||70|
|150299||Banking, Finance and Investment not elsewhere classified||30|
For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.
Journal article (4 outputs)
|2018||Balachandran B, Duong HN, Vu VH, 'Pension Deficits and the Design of Private Debt Contracts', JOURNAL OF FINANCIAL AND QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS, Forthcoming (2018)|
Duong HN, Paul L, Lu JS, Vu HV, 'The effect of anonymity on price efficiency: Evidence from the removal of broker identities', Pacific-Basin Finance Journal, 51 95-107 (2018) [C1]
Duong HN, Vu VH, Lajbcygier P, 'The information content of special orders', Pacific-Basin Finance Journal, 45 68-81 (2017) [C1]
|Show 1 more journal article|
Grants and Funding
|Number of grants||7|
Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.
20191 grants / $81,000
Funding body: The University of Newcastle - Research and Innovation Division | Australia
|Funding body||The University of Newcastle - Research and Innovation Division | Australia|
|Scheme||UON HDR Candidate Scholarship Scheme|
|Type Of Funding||Internal|
20182 grants / $6,920
Accounting and Finance Association of Australia and New Zealand research grant (mid-career researchers)$5,000
Funding body: Accounting and Finance Association of Australia and New Zealand
|Funding body||Accounting and Finance Association of Australia and New Zealand|
|Scheme||Research grant for mid-career researchers|
|Type Of Funding||External|
Funding body: Faculty of Business and Law, The University of Newcastle
|Funding body||Faculty of Business and Law, The University of Newcastle|
|Scheme||Faculty Research Project Grant|
|Type Of Funding||Internal|
20171 grants / $9,779
Funding body: Faculty of Business and Law, University of Newcastle
|Funding body||Faculty of Business and Law, University of Newcastle|
|Type Of Funding||Not Known|
20162 grants / $24,959
Funding body: The University of Newcastle
|Funding body||The University of Newcastle|
Van Le, Van Vu
|Scheme||Multi-disciplinary Innovation Pilot Grant|
|Type Of Funding||Internal|
New staff grant$4,959
Funding body: Faculty of Business and Law, University of Newcastle
|Funding body||Faculty of Business and Law, University of Newcastle|
|Type Of Funding||Internal|
20151 grants / $1,457
Funding body: The International Finance and Banking Society
|Funding body||The International Finance and Banking Society|
|Scheme||Young Researcher’s Travel Grant|
|Type Of Funding||External|
Number of supervisions
|Commenced||Level of Study||Research Title||Program||Supervisor Type|
|2018||PhD||The Effect of Social Capital on Syndicated Bank Loan Contracting||PhD (Accounting & Finance), Faculty of Business and Law, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|Year||Level of Study||Research Title||Program||Supervisor Type|
|2019||Professional Doctorate||What do shareholders really expect? A survey of shareholder attitude to the social role of Australian banks.||Bankng,Finance & Relatd Fields, Faculty of Business and Law, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2017||Honours||Banking contagion||Bankng,Finance & Relatd Fields, Faculty of Business and Law, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
July 18, 2018