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An update on our COVID-19 research

An update on our COVID-19 research

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Researchers at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research are working to understand and manage COVID-19. 

Below are updates from just some of our projects. COVID-19 will have long-term impacts, especially for people with respiratory and lung conditions. Make sure you sign up to our email updates to hear about the outcomes of these projects and other research we're working on.

Developing RNA capacity

The Woolcock's Respiratory Technology Research Group is contributing its expertise to an exciting new research project developing RNA-based aerosol formulations to battle COVID-19. Read a news item about this exciting new research. In December 2021, our researchers received NSW Government funding to apply Medlab's NanoCelle system to the delivery of a nasal RNA vaccine. Read more.

Protecting frontline workers and the community

Professors Euan Tovey and Guy Marks were key researchers in a ground-breaking international study on mask-wearing protocols and ventilation for frontline staff.

The research reinforces the importance of maintaining social distance, having excellent ventilation in buildings and transport, and using effective masks.

Read a news item about the research.

Data on COVID-19 and respiratory disease

In late 2020/early 2021, the Australian Centre for Airways Disease Monitoring (ACAM), based at the Woolcock, conducted two large web-based surveys – one to estimate breathlessness in the general population (10,024 adults) and one to identify Australian adults with difficult-to-treat or severe asthma (5,500 respondents). In both surveys, which were of nationally-representative populations, we included questions about COVID-19 and vaccine willingness.

The surveys will provide invaluable data on the impact of COVID-19 for people with respiratory illness. We will use the survey data to explore the relationships between COVID-19 – for example, changes in behaviour since the onset of COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccination willingness – and respiratory disease in Australia. The datasets (but not the individual data) will also be able to be accessed by other researchers, so we hope the information will feed into work others are doing to understand COVID-19 and improve treatment and management of the virus in people with difficult-to-treat or severe asthma.

For more information about these invaluable datasets, contact Leanne Poulos, Project Manager at ACAM, on

COVID-19 in Vietnam

Woolcock Vietnam is working on a range of projects to understand and respond to COVID-19 in Vietnam. The research group recently released a report with updates on four key projects:

  • Measuring the prevalence of COVID-19 in Vietnam
  • Using X-rays to understand the health impacts of COVID-19
  • Understanding people's experience of COVID-19
  • Implementing a large-scale vaccine program in Vietnam

As part of the report, the team produced infographics and a video. Read the report on our COVID-19 work in Vietnam.

Respiratory technology 

Our Respiratory Technology Research Group has been collaborating with several international pharmaceutical companies and researchers to help develop upper and lower respiratory tract treatments and preventative measures against COVID-19.

They are also investigating the effectiveness of personal protective equipment (PPE) in protecting health workers against exposure to COVID-19.

Joining the public conversation

Our experts have also been adding to the public understanding of COVID-19.

In December 2022, Professor Guy Marks published an opinion piece in The Conversation with Professor Lidia Morawska about the importance of improving public health advice and regulations on indoor ventilation. Read Ventilation reduces the risk of covid. So why are we still ignoring it?

In August 2022, Professor Guy Marks gave a presentation on work he is doing with a community-based platform for rigorous evaluation of proposed interventions for COVID. He describes the tortuous route followed to establish the trial, the nature of the platform, and plans for the future. Watch BEAT COVID-19 - a decentralised trial.

The Woolcock's Professor Brian Oliver caught COVID early in 2022. In Personal reflections on COVID, Brian describes his experience, reflects on the long-term consequences of the virus, and talks about his own research into COVID and respiratory disease. 

In February 2022, Professor Brian Oliver explored evidence on the interconnections between COVID19, bushfires and people's health. Read When bushfires and COVID collide

In January 2022, Associate Professor Euan Tovey wrote about how important masks are for protecting people from COVID-19, what's the best mask to get, and what people need to look out for when buying and using a mask. Read Coffee or COVID? We need to talk about masks

In January 2022, Professor Guy Marks joined with two other infectious disease experts to explain how we can chart a path to 'eliminating' SARS-COV2. They warn that it will take more sustained global coordination and determination than what has been seen so far. Read Backed by Science: Here’s How We Can Eliminate COVID-19

In January 2022, Professor Guy Marks shared his thoughts on sme of the lessons we've learned from COVID about how to manage other airborne diseases. Read COVID and airborne disease – a timely reminder

In November 2021, Dr Thu Anh Nguyen of Woolcock Vietnam told the ABC series Pandemic Warriors what lessons we can learn from COVID-19 in our attempts to eliminate tuberculosis in Vietnam. Watch Thu Anh's video

For the 2021 Ann Woolcock lecture on 27 October, Professor Grant Waterer looked back over the great plagues and pandemics from the past, how they shaped history, how they might put the COVID-19 pandemic into historical context, and what lessons we can draw to deal with COVID-19 and future pandemics. Read more and watch a recording of the lecture: How infection has shaped us and the world

In October 2021, Professor Guy Marks was interviewed by ABC News about school ventilation and the risks to children of returning to school. Read Open windows in New South Wales classrooms key to stopping COVID-19 transmission.

In July 2021, Professor Brian Oliver gave a presentation on how our understanding of the spread of COVID-19 through aerosols has changed, and where he's focussing his research efforts to improve how we manage the virus's spread. Watch a recording of Brian's presentation.

In July 2021, Professor Euan Tovey outlined ways we can reach the sort of "long-term equilibrium" with COVID-19 that exists for other community viruses. Read Pandemic precautions need to tighten, not relax.

In June 2021, Professor Greg King was interviewed by the Medical Republic about the impact of the pandemic on how respiratory outpatient services are offered. Read Telehealth no replacement for doctor-patient connection

In June 2021 Professor Helen Reddel explained to the Medical Republic why people with asthma reported good health during the pandemic. Read Asthma control is better during COVID. Why?

In March 2021, the ABC reported on Professor Euan Tovey's and Professor Guy Marks's research on aerosols and masks. Read Australian researchers find COVID-19 aerosol spread that puts some healthcare workers at risk over others on the ABC News website.

In February 2021, Professor Brian Oliver wrote a widely-shared opinion piece in the Conversation clarifying issues about whether nebulisers can help spread COVID-19

In December 2019 the results of a study about working from home in pyjamas during the COVID-19 pandemic were widely reported in the media. The study found that, although working in pyjamas did not lower a person's productivity, it was linked to poorer mental health.

In May 2021 Professor Guy Marks joined other experts to call for a "paradigm shift" to fight airborne spread of COVID-19. The international group of experts outline their case in the prestigious Science Magazine. Read the media release.

The future is unclear

Although Australia has managed the COVID-19 pandemic well compared to many other countries, the long-term health impacts of the pandemic are unclear.

What will be the long-term effects of COVID-19 for people with respiratory and lung disease? Will the pandemic have unforeseen impacts?

We will continue our important research on understanding the personal and public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. And we'll be reporting results from this work as the nature and impacts of the pandemic become clearer.

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