Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being at all ages is essential to sustainable development. Currently, the world is facing a global health crisis unlike any other — COVID-19 is spreading human suffering, destabilising the global economy and upending the lives of billions of people around the globe.
– United Nations

At Victoria University, we are deeply dedicated to improving health through teaching, research, clinics and support services.

Our research programs approach the complex issues of human health from many angles, including disease treatment, policy improvement, and exercise as prevention. 

Our Institute for Health and Sport supports extraordinary biomedical research, such as the work of Vasso Apostolopoulos, who developed the concept of immunotherapy for cancer and is currently working on a COVID-19 treatment.

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Research, engagement & education 2020-21

Research with impact

Research into health and wellbeing at Victoria University has a wide scope, encompassing institutional research in exercise science, active living, chronic disease, biomedical sciences, technology, nursing, community health, psychology, public health and sport in society.

Victoria University researchers contributed 36 articles on the response to the Covid 19 pandemic ranging from the development of potential treatments to improving people’s wellbeing in confronting of the impacts on their lives. The seven top cited articles are:

Professor Vasso Apostolopoulos was also the lead author, as one of 25 researchers from around the world, who joined forces to look at the use of short peptides as drugs for diverse diseases. Peptides are fragments of proteins that carry out biological functions. They act as signalling entities via all domains of life and mediate protein-protein interactions, which are indispensable in bio-processes. The role of peptides in bio-processes cannot be readily substituted by other chemical substances. This collaboration documented the advances in peptide medicines and how some of the current limitations in their use might be overcome.

Flavonoids as an effective sensitizer for anti-cancer therapy , involved Associate Professor Anthony Zulli and doctoral student Laura Gadanec from VU, together with 16 researchers from Slovakia, Germany, Qatar and the Czech Republic to look at the potential of flavonoids for the cost effective treatment and prevention of cancer.

The effect of physical activity on anxiety in children and young people , was the work of Professor Alex Parker from VU and researchers from Australia, the United Kingdom and Greece. The review identified 22 randomised controlled trials for inclusion in a meta-analysis of the effect of physical activity on anxiety symptoms. The controlled trials were overall of low quality and the limited number limited the precision of the results. Emerging evidence of the benefits of physical activity in addressing anxiety in children and young people, requires further clinical trials to determine the effectiveness.

Led by Professor Todor Vasiljevic, the Health-related outcomes of genetic polymorphism of bovine β-casein variants study, found that whilst there is evidence that A2 β-casein milk can provide improved tolerance of milk via decline in gut related discomfort, the exact mechanism for this is poorly understood, and no further health benefits were shown. There is therefore insufficient evidence for public health authorities to recommend the consumption and any health benefits of A2 β-casein milk.

Associate Professor Emma Rybalka joined researchers from the University of Tasmania to dispute the current understanding that the drug Idebenone , used to treat dementia, is an antioxidant. The research presented a new framework to understand how the molecule works which reconciles seemingly contradictory findings and presents new possibilities for the use of Idebenone in the treatment of other conditions.

Professor Lidia Xynas advances the case for taxing highly processed foods and sugar laden drinks in  Causes of the Obesity Epidemic and Economic Rationales to Support Taxation as a Population-based Policy Response to raise the cost of the most unhealthy foods to address increasing rates of obesity in Australia.

Australia’s Health Tracker series of reports are the work of the Australian Health Policy Collaboration of health organisations and chronic disease experts led by Professor Rosemary Calder, from the Mitchell Institute, to measure progress towards national health targets for 2025. Four reports were released in 2020. Australia’s Health Tracker by Area: Smoking Rates Report shows smoking rates in Australia’s poorest areas are up to seven times the rate of wealthy areas, with the reduction of the national smoking rate stagnating at 12.2% for the last four years. Australia’s Gender Health Tracker report card 2020 highlights differences in gender based health needs and risks, how current policy, funding and service models are failing women, and the estimated costs of system shortcomings. The additional Health Tracker reports published were the Alcohol Summary Report and the NSW Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Tracker.

The Mitchell Institute prepared for the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, the peak body for emergency care, the report Nowhere else to go: why Australia’s health system results in people with mental illness getting ‘stuck’ in emergency departments. The report provided a comprehensive set of recommendations for people seeking mental health support to access the services they need and to alleviate the pressure on hospital emergency departments.

Preclinical research by exercise metabolism researchers, Professor Glenn McConell and Dr Filippe Falcao-Tebas, indicates that women who exercise before and during pregnancy could overcome the risk of their child developing diabetes that comes from having an obese father. The study on rats found that pregnant mothers who exercise can ‘reprogram’ the low insulin sensitivity and increased likelihood of diabetes for the offspring of obese fathers.

Professor Melinda Craike and Matthew Bourke, found that people need to feel good, to derive pleasure and to have achievable goals in order to stay motivated to maintain longterm commitment to moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. External sources of enjoyment such as a great view or upbeat music are important to counter negative internal monologues and physical discomfort.

Rubina Sarki; Khandakar Ahmed; Hua Wang; Yanchun Zhang of ISILC conducted a systematic survey of automated approaches to diabetic eye disease detection for Automatic Detection of Diabetic Eye Disease Through Deep Learning Using Fundus Images . The survey is to provide a comprehensive synopsis of diabetic eye disease detection approaches, including state of the art field approaches, for research communities, healthcare professionals and patients with diabetes.

Effects of visually augmented gait training on foot-ground clearance: An intervention to reduce tripping-related falls , involving Rezaul Begg, looked at how to prevent dangerous trips and falls by training people to increase their toe clearance.

Factors influencing self-management of depression in older adults: a qualitative study  involving Terry McAinch, looked at developing strategies for older adults to successfully self-manage depression.

Exercise Interventions in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis  was undertaken by Nigel Stepto, international and Australian health researchers, to more clearly establish what interventions are effective in providing favourable outcomes for PCOS.

Karen Mickle co-authored, ‘Jump start’ childcare-based intervention to promote physical activity in pre-schoolers , an assessment of whether an early intervention program can promote physical activity.


We contribute to healthy and resilient individuals and communities by enhancing social engagement and impacting behaviour, social change, and policy changes.

The Sport and Social Change Lab at Victoria University design inclusion and diversity programs for sporting clubs. In 2021 they delivered two Change Makers projects for: Football Victoria’s gender equality goal of 50/50 and to increase the low participation of migrants and refugees in sports clubs in the West of Melbourne. The Change Makers are nominated from each participating sporting club. These Change Makers are trained, mentored and supported to design and implement transformation projects to increase the diversity of club membership.

VU health and exercise researchers collaborate with researchers at the Australian Institute for Musculoskeletal Science and the Department of Medicine at Western Health, the regional manager of public hospitals, to improve health care and treatment for acute and chronic conditions, including in 2021, work on the Wellderly Project to improve knowledge on how high-intensity interval training (HIIT) effects hormones involved in bone, muscle and fat interaction. As a first step on this scientific journey, the researchers, Professor Itamar Levinger and doctoral candidate, Carlie Bauer, looked at the body chemistry involved in the ‘crosstalk’ between muscles and bones.

The Western Bulldogs Community Foundation partnership delivers programs to effect behavioural changes for the improvement of people’s health, wellbeing and social connectedness. VU coordinates student placements, projects, conducts research and evaluations of effectiveness for the delivery of these programs. 2021 activities, in the context of the global pandemic and city lockdown, included hosting a Covid Vaccination pop up hub and the Play On webinar series.

Prof Željko Pedišić and the Active Living & Public Health research team’s work on physical activity prevalence in Australian children and adolescents informed the development of the National Preventive Health Strategy, 2021-2030 issued by the Australian government, Department of Health in 2021.

Brief Interventions Toolkit  was deployed on the headspace website, accessed by thousands of young people, to provide solutions-focused, skills-based material to help handle life’s challenges, without needing to speak to a clinician. The toolkit of micro-intervention modules for use by young people to deal with personal trials, draws on the research by Professor Alex Parker into physical activity and problem solving by young people with mental health concerns.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the second leading cause of avoidable hospital admissions. Professor Clint Moloney, a leading expert on COPD, was a research lead of the Reducing Avoidable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease emergency presentations project  to examine a potential over-use of emergency services and to address gaps in outreach services in the treatment of COPD. The project was undertaken in collaboration between three non-metropolitan health services in South East Queensland. It has informed referral treatment initiatives’ implementation and evaluation e.g. anxiety management, smoking cessation referral, and quality intra- professional care programs, based on identified causal factors. Professor Moloney published a series of articles on the findings of this project for emergency presentations and treatment of COPD.

The Mitchell Institute conducted the Giving it a Go: Working towards health and wellbeing program, a collaborative and innovative research project designed to help people with chronic musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions who are on the Disability Support Pension. The free online program is designed to help people better manage the condition and build confidence to engage with work, education and the community.

Nilufa Khanom and Shah Jahan Miah address the digital divide in Cloud Motherhood Clinic: A Healthcare Management Solution for Rural Communities , by co-designing with stakeholders a mobile Health (m-Health) solution for service support in a virtual clinic environment.

The Behavioural Risk Tool (BRT), developed by Associate Professor Michelle Ball and her research team, is now being offered as a standard part of the Firelighting Consequence Awareness Program (Fire-CAP) intake process to allow high BRT scores to be rapidly managed and to identify if mental health support is required.

A team of researchers from the health and university sectors and Telethon Kids Institute, co-lead by Associate Professor Jacqueline Williams, have reported on a survey of parents of children across Australia for the Impact for DCD Survey, the largest survey conducted in the world on the impacts of Developmental Coordination Disorder. DCD is a little-known neuro-developmental condition, estimated to affect up to one in twenty children, which often co-occurs with other disorders, masking its effects and delaying diagnosis. Its effect on motor skills and coordination means that children with DCD have trouble with activities like getting dressed, eating, writing, running or playing. The report provides an evidence based guide for improving support for children with DCD and their families.

VU Elevenses was a live discussion for staff and students on weekday mornings to support people’s mental health during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns. Directed to lifestyle and health, the sessions aimed to improve the wellbeing of participants. The sessions are available on YouTube for on demand viewing.

Associate Professor Deborah Zion was appointed to the World Health Organization on Ethics, Public Health and Migration.

Professor Ramon Spaaij was invited as a panellist for the United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and International Platform on Sport and Development webinar.

Victoria University and Western Health have formed a strategic partnership for education, research and engagement to improve health care and treatment for acute and chronic conditions and the health of communities in the region.

The Western Centre for Health Research & Education

VU and Western Health collaborated with The University of Melbourne on the development of the Western Centre for Health Research and Education (WCHRE). This is a state-of-the-art teaching, training and research centre at Sunshine Hospital. The WCHRE makes major contributions to the future health of local communities through leading research.

Current projects

Staff and students from our College of Health and Biomedicine, Institute for Health & Sport (IHES) and VU Business School work closely with Western Health to understand a number of chronic diseases.

Other research by VU’s nursing and midwifery staff informs Western Health’s addresses the barriers to nurses and midwives providing the best care for patients and supporting patients to make better health choices.

Joint health research by Victoria University & Western Health Researchers

Some examples of research completed in 2020:


We offer highly respected courses in health and biomedicine, in close collaboration with partners in the west of Melbourne.

The Master of Global Public Health is directed to complex global health issues and the online Master of Public Health  offers specialisations in Health Promotion and Global Health Leadership to address current and emerging health issues in local and global contexts.

The Bachelor of Nursing prepares students to provide medical treatment for people with sensitivity to cultural contexts and offers a greater focus on mental health outcomes

The menu project is a collaboration between VU’s Bachelor of Human Nutrition, the not-for-profit Cohealth, health service provider, and supported disability accommodation providers in Melbourne’s west. Bachelor of Human Nutrition students help National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) workers create healthy meals for people in supported disability accommodation.  The four-week volunteer project by the students provided NDIS support workers a better understanding of how to plan nutritious meals for the good health of the residents. The program is in line with recommendations of the recent federal commission for NDIS providers to have training in nutrition and menu planning.

Professor Vasso Apostolopoulos was the lead author, as one of 25 researchers from around the world who joined forces to look at the use of short peptides as drugs for diverse diseases. 

Sustainability on campus

VU Elevenses, is a program to support mental health and wellbeing. The program was initially run in 2020 as a live online discussion for staff and students to support people’s mental health during the 2020 lockdowns. Selected sessions from the 2021 lockdown series were recorded to be available to the general public on YouTube.

Research groups addressing Goal 3

Programs addressing Goal 3