ANU College of Health and Medicine - Collaborating during the unprecedented times of COVID-19.
As a College we are addressing and improving community understanding of COVID-19 and issues related to the medical and public health response, and social, economic and political repercussions. And we continue to do so as the world begins to move into a recovery and rebuild post-pandemic phase.
The College has made a significant contribution to the COVID-19 response. Many of our researchers have been drawn upon to provide frank and trusted advice to federal and state and territory governments. They have been seconded, influenced conversations and entrusted to provide essential information to improve key decisions.
Each College School has had an impact on the response to COVID-19.
- The Research School of Population Health trains some of the worlds’ finest field epidemiologists who have been operating in government incident rooms across Australia providing expertise in the pandemic response.
- The John Curtin School of Medical Research has been directly involved in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness vaccine consortium, working on new rapid tests for coronavirus, and drugs that have antiviral activity for patients in intensive care.
- The ANU Medical School is providing the clinical leadership at the highest level with key staff diverting efforts to support frontline ACT health services and imbedded in the Federal Government working directly with the Chief Medical Officer.
- The Research School of Psychology has supported both the ANU and neighbouring communities with their expertise in clinical and social psychology in endeavours to reinforce positive health behaviours and flatten the curve.
You can read more about our research response to COVID-19 below.
Rapid evidence reviews
The College has also supported the Federal Government’s Department of Health and ACT Government with rapid, evidence-based reviews and summaries, to support key decision-making. You can read more about these rapid evidence reviews.
Research School of Population Health
Associate Professor Colleen Lau and an ANU team were awarded funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), through the APPRISE Centre for Research Excellence, to produce an information and visualisation dashboard. The dashboard maps the spread of COVID-19 in Australia over time and place and aims for real-time information by linking data from multiple sources such as health departments, laboratories, and case investigations. The system will also include spatial data so users can easily identify transmission hotspots and aid our national response by streamlining data collection and analyses across all states and territories. Collaborators include members of the GRAPHC team at the Research School of Population Health, other researchers from ANU, APPRISE Partners, Menzies School of Health Research, and Health Departments. Read more
Dr Tambri Housen and the team from the ANU Research School of Population Health, ANU Research School of Psychology and James Cook University are conducting an online survey to determine community understanding, attitudes, and practices about COVID-19. Survey results will help researchers identify which media sources are most frequently used to access information on COVID-19, and what changes participants have made in their daily life. This information will be accessible by the Federal Department of Health and other agencies to correct misinformation, target more effective public news information, risk communication messaging aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 within the population, and help alleviate anxiety associated with COVID-19 pandemic. Read more.
Dr Aparna Lal is leading a team monitoring sewage for evidence of COVID-19 in the ACT. The project will identify virus transmission outside of standard testing and hospital reporting. The monitoring of wastewater has been effective in serving as an early warning system. Researchers in the Netherlands detected COVID-19 in sewage samples before the first officially recorded case. The study will provide critical information for preventative interventions and health service planning both in the ACT and nationally. This project is a recipient of crisis seed funding from the College. Read more.
Professor Darren Gray and a team of ANU researchers along with their collaborators at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the University of Queensland are developing an educational cartoon for primary school children to teach them how to have good hand hygiene and social distancing for disrupting the path of COVID-19. The team has had great success with a similar educational cartoon on intestinal worms in an international setting. The team will work to ensure it becomes an education resource (although more funding is required) across Australian primary schools and anticipate that it will provide greater confidence in schools reopening. This project is a recipient of crisis seed funding from the College. Read more
Collaborating to compute COVID-19 preparedness
Associate Professor Kathryn Glass is part of a multi-institutional team, led by the University of Melbourne, providing technical advice to Federal Department of Health. The team uses mathematical and computational modelling to support risk assessment and preparedness planning for COVID-19 in Australia. The ANU contribution to the project involves estimating clinical presentations to different health care settings and evaluating the need for and likely benefits of alternate care pathways like fever clinics or phone triage.
A rapid appraisal of healthcare workers’ perceptions of care delivery in the context of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an unprecedented demand on healthcare systems and workers around the world. Studies have called for further research into factors that influence healthcare workers’ decisions to provide care at the frontline. Researchers from RSPH and ANUMS will explore healthcare workers’ perceptions and experiences of responding to COVID-19 in Australia. They will compare their results to similar studies being conducted at the same time in the UK and other countries. This project is a recipient of crisis seed funding from the College.
Read more about the ANU Research School of Population Health.
Research School of Psychology
Boosting health behaviours to flatten the curve
Dr Diana Cardenas and a team of ANU researchers are exploring how to improve compliance with public health measures in order to maintain Australia's success in suppressing COVID-19. The team explores the role of group processes in shaping our behaviours, including compliance with social distance and hygiene measures. They will be investigating these processes in a longitudinal study of 3000 Australians across four months, as well as in experimental designs. Their goal is to provide health agencies evidence-based tools for promoting compliance with public health measures. This project is a recipient of crisis seed funding from the College.
Together Apart: The psychology of COVID-19 - book
Dr Tegan Cruwys, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist at the Research School of Psychology has co-authored a book, in collaboration with social psychologists from University of Queensland and the University of St Andrews. The book is inspired by research and theory around the topic of social identity. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors have been advising a range of bodies on how to best support the COVID-19 response. In this engagement it has become clear how psychological theory — and the social identity approach in particular — can help us better understand, and respond to, the COVID-19 crisis. The book has now been published online and is available for download as an uncorrected proof.
Co-authors: Jolanda Jetten, Professor of Social Psychology and Australian Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland
Stephen Reicher, Wardlaw Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews
S. Alexander Haslam, Professor of Psychology and Australian Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland
Dr Amy Dawel is leading a study that aims to improve understanding of the mental health and behavioural impacts of COVID-19 on the Australian community. The study also investigates how risk communication (e.g. in the media, or by politicians) impacts on people's emotions and decision-making. It is a longitudinal study, comprising an initial 20-30 minute survey, with six 15-20 minute follow-up surveys at two-week intervals. Overall, the aim is to discover what puts our community at risk during pandemics, what protects them, and what can be done to foster community mental health—including by improving communication by Governments and other organisations. This project is a recipient of crisis seed funding from the College. Read more.
Read more about the ANU Research School of Psychology.
ANU Medical School
Lessons for distance education and e-learning, forged in the crucible of a pandemic
Dr Lillian Smyth, Associate Professor Krisztina Valter, Dr Alexandra Webb, and Katherine Esteves are leading an observational investigation of the unprecedented move to fully online medical teaching. The literature makes clear that student identification and engagement with their peers, the School and the field of study has impact on the way they learn, academic performance, intentions to continue study, student resilience under stress and frequency of important self-care actions. Initial data from the current crisis situation can be used to inform future systematic experimental work to build the evidence base and clarify the lessons to be applied to distance and e-learning approaches.
Severe Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Generating Evidence in Australia and New Zealand (SAGE-ANZ) during the COVID-19 pandemic
Many thousands of patients with COVID-19 develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) - a condition where the lungs have been injured and do not function normally to provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the body. Patients may need high levels of respiratory support, including mechanical ventilation. Associate Professor Frank van Haren is undertaking a prospective observational study for six to 12 months in 25 ICUs in Australia and New Zealand to describe management practices, ventilator strategies, adjunctive therapies and outcomes in patients with and without COVID-19 who develop moderate-severe ARDS, and determine factors associated with survival. Limited evidence exists regarding current management and outcomes of patients with moderate-severe ARDS in New Zealand and Australia and none so far regarding COVID-19 related ARDS. This project is a recipient of crisis seed funding from the College.
Evaluating collaborative processes in the COVID-19 response
Dr Brett Scholz is evaluating collaborative processes between consumer, carer, and community-organisations and health services in the COVID-19 response. The study is specifically concerned with ways in which consumer needs have driven and are reflected in health service processes related to managing situations in which demand for resources exceed capacity in the pandemic. While some jurisdictions have lacked time to meaningfully collaborate with consumers on the development of COVID-19 response processes, the ACT has engaged in two collaborative processes: 1) a rapid consultation of consumer stakeholders on an early draft of ethical resource management framework, and 2) a more in-depth process of conversations across a range of consumer groups to direct a more comprehensive ethical resource management framework. The aim of the research project is to better understand what collaborative processes challenged power imbalances between health services and consumers, and whether the final product meaningfully reflects consumers’ needs and perspectives.
Bushfires and COVID19: the impact on mothers and babies
Professor Christopher Nolan is leading The Mother and Child 2020 Study, a project led by ANU involving a collaborative of Universities, Local Health Districts and Aboriginal health Services in the ACT/Southeast NSW region. A healthy start to life is a key determinant to long term health and wellbeing. Through the summer of 2019/20, however, mothers and babies of South-East NSW and the ACT were exposed to the bushfire crisis. The same mothers and babies are now being impacted by COVID19. While the direct effects of bushfire smoke and COVID19 infection may cause harm, the indirect effects of extended disruptions of these back-to-back crises on the home environment, social connectedness and access to usual maternal and child health care on the physical and mental health of mothers and babies are likely also to be important. It is hoped that better understanding of the impact of such crises on the physical and mental health of mothers and babies will help design interventions to improve the outcomes of those most affected, and inform our preparedness to future similar crises.
Read more about the ANU Medical School.
John Curtin School of Medical Research
Developing a vaccine for COVID-19
The University of Queensland-led Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI) COVID-19 vaccine consortium has developed a vaccine candidate against COVID-19 that is currently being tested in pre-clinical efficacy studies in animal models. Associate Professor Charani Ranasinghe is leading the involvement of ANU in evaluation of the innate immune cell and T cell responses in animal models, including the T cell-based immunogenicity studies related to the human clinical vaccine trial. The vaccine trial is scheduled to commence June-July 2020.
Evaluating a treatment for COVID-19-related sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome
Professor Chris Parish and Dr Lucy Coupland from The Cancer and Vascular Biology Group at JCSMR, are leading the development of a drug that neutralises the cell-damaging and pro-coagulant effects of extracellular histones that are released by neutrophils in sepsis and related syndromes, such as ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome). A major cause of death and serious morbidity in COVID-19 patients is ARDS that is associated with a coagulopathy and multi-organ damage. The drug is at an advanced stage of development, having already demonstrated strong pre-clinical activity against sepsis and sepsis-related syndromes and having successfully completed a Phase-I clinical trial in healthy volunteers. Research on this drug is continuing at JCSMR and is partially supported by a $1.2M R&D grant from the Wuhan-based company, China Grand Pharma. If successful, the drug treatment should significantly reduce the mortality and morbidity associated with COVID-19 and other infectious agents that induce ARDS by similar mechanisms.
COVID-19 community testing
The John Curtin School of Medical Research is leading a collaborative research program that has been developed with researchers across the ANU, and with Canberra Health Services and ACT Health. The program contributes to the understanding of COVID-19 infection and immune responses through extensive SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid and serology testing. As part of the collaboration, the ANU will be able to perform high throughput testing for both acute and previous infection using optimised nucleic acid tests (NAT) and newly developed ELISA-based antibody tests. The focus of this research program will be surveillance of vulnerable populations in which social distancing is not possible. The program will significantly increase the availability of COVID-19 testing within the ACT, facilitating the extension of vital testing services to vulnerable groups and institutions. This innovative and future focused partnership will create capacity to monitor changes in COVID-19 prevalence in the ACT providing local government increased flexibility in the management of the epidemic and the rapid control of future outbreaks.
Read more about The John Curtin School of Medical Research.