Non Communicable Disease Unit

Research Overview

Chronic disease is a serious and widespread threat to the health and wellbeing of people both in Australia and globally. Most notably, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus are leading causes of disease burden and premature death. The Noncommunicable Disease Unit combines existing world-class expertise and capabilities of Professor Brian Oldenburg and his team, addressing key gaps in the prevention and management of chronic disease.

Professor Oldenburg is talking about some of the work of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Implementation Research for Prevention and Control of NCDs which he is Director for:

Areas of focus are:

  • Collaborating with industry and other partners in Australia and globally to develop and rigorously evaluate digital health programs for the prevention and management of chronic disease.
  • Developing and implementing mhealth interventions to help people better self-manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, mental illness, and their risk factors.
  • Developing, implementing and evaluating ‘real world’ lifestyle and community-based interventions to improve the prevention and control of chronic disease in resource constrained settings and countries;
  • Understanding the multiple determinants and complex pathways to the causation and outcome of chronic conditions, including co-morbid mental health conditions;
  • Developing and evaluating contemporary approaches to build individual and institutional public health research capacity of developing countries.


CaoDr. Tina (Yingting) Cao (MBBS, MMedSc, PhD) is a researcher in nutritional epidemiology. Tina’s PhD investigated the association between diet and sleep in mid-aged men in Australia. Her current research interest includes but not limited to understanding the associations between lifestyle factors including dietary intake, physical activity, sedentary behaviour and their inter-relationships and cardiometabolic outcomes, as well as sleep and other chronic conditions. Her work at NCDU involves two Indian projects of diabetes and hypertension prevention, and she is also interested to explore the lifestyle factors and cardiometabolic outcomes in populations from India and in culturally and linguistically diverse populations in Australia. Tina is available to mentor or supervise honours and postgraduate students.

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Tilahun Haregu

Dr Tilahun Haregu (MPH, PhD) is a public health researcher, with rich experience in the field of epidemiology and policy challenges of cardiovascular disease since the commencement of his PhD in 2011. As part of his PhD research, he investigated the interrelationships between HIV/AIDS and cardiovascular disease in Sub-Sahara Africa. After completion of his PhD from Monash University, Tilahun undertook a post-doctoral fellowship for two years with Africa’s top-ranked population health research institute, the African Population and Health Research Centre. Tilahun’s current role involves managing two NHMRC funded projects in India of diabetes and hypertension prevention. Tilahun published over 50 peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals, and most of the publications are in line with his research focus on the interplay between cardiovascular disease risk.

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Dom Kwasnicka

Dr Dominika (Dom) recently joined NCDU at the University of Melbourne as a Research Fellow. She is a behavioural scientist who has diverse interests in health psychology, digital health and research methods focusing on individuals. Before joining the NHMRC CRE, Dom studied and lived in Scotland and England, then she worked on digital health projects at Curtin University and Central Queensland University, in Australia as well as collaborated broadly with European colleagues in Poland, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and Finland. Dom leads Open Digital Health initiative that promotes reusing open digital health solutions across contexts and settings, she is also passionate about science translation and is a leader of the Practical Health Psychology blog currently translated to 27 languages.

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EnyingEnying Gong is a public health researcher. Her current research focused on improving population-level health outcomes in cardio-metabolic diseases through digital health and health service interventions. She has research experience in designing interventions, managing multi-country studies, performing quantitative and qualitative data analysis and conducting fieldwork in low- and middle-income countries. Enying’s research interests also include implementation science, global health and health promotion. Enying received her master degree in global health from Duke University in US and dual bachelor degrees from Peking University in China. Before PhD study, she worked at the Global Health Research Center in Duke Kunshan University and interned at the World Health Organization.

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ShurongShurong Lu is an epidemiologist and biostatistician with 10 years of experience in the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in China. Her research involves using population-based surveys and interventions in the field of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), behavioural risk factors, mental health and suicide.  Shurong has rich experience in epidemiology, quantitative and qualitative study and health promotion. Shurong has been actively involved in many research programs funded by Chinese government and international organisations. She is available for graduate research supervision.

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Nitin Kapoor

Dr. Nitin  Kapoor is a medical doctor and completed his MD in Internal medicine followed by a three-year specialty clinical training in Endocrinology (DM in Endocrine) from Christian Medical College, Vellore in India. Dr. Nitin joined the NCDU at the Nossal Institute in December 2016 as an international PhD student (Melbourne Research Scholarship 2016 - 2020). His PhD investigates obesity indicators and their role in identifying metabolic disorders in the Asian Indian population. Dr. Nitin has more than 120 indexed peer reviewed publications in national and international journals in the field of Obesity & Metabolic syndrome, Pituitary Disorders and Metabolic Bone Disease

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Dr.Chamila Thilakarathne is originally a dental surgeon and obtained her master degree and Doctor of Medicine degree in Medical Administration from Post Graduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Chamila joined the NCDU at the Nossal Institute in April 2019 as an honorary fellow to complete her overseas training to obtain the board certification as Consultant in Medical Administration. Her training objectives mainly related to the Policies & strategies used for prevention & control of NCDs in Australia. Further, she investigated monitoring & evaluation methods used in NCD programmes and compare the health systems of Australia & Sri Lanka giving especial attention to NCDs Management. Chamila is interested to explore further the effect of health systems on successful management of NCDs.

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Dr Shilanthi Seneviratne is a public health specialist (MBBS, MSc - Community Medicine and MD - Community Medicine) from Sri Lanka. She joined the NCDU as an international trainee in accordance with the University of Melbourne Honorary Conditions of appointments. Her main goal at the NCDU is to further develop research capacity and work towards control of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes mellitus in Low- and middle- income countries (LMICs). Currently, she is working on how primary health systems can be more strengthened to improve NCD control in LMICs. Her work also leads to establishing links with international researchers and public health professionals for continued professional development and future research collaborations.

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Past Trainees and Students

Left to Right: Athula Liyanapathirana, Natasha Khamisa, Geethika Amarasinghe, Sathish Thirunavukkarasu, Jinesh Silva, Yang Zhao, Zongmuyu Zhang, Zahra Aziz, Patricia Rarau


PilvikkiDr Pilvikki Absetz (PhD) is a behavioral scientist and a leading expert in implementation of chronic disease prevention and self-management programs as well as lifestyle change programs for health promotion in different real-world settings. She is Adjunct Professor of Health Promotion at the Tampere University, visiting researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, the Head of Research and Development at Provention Ltd, and the CEO and sole owner of Collaborative Care Systems Finland. Dr. Pilvikki has over 20 years of experience in designing, implementing and evaluating behavioral interventions for prevention and self-management of chronic non-communicable diseases through lifestyle changes. Dr. Pilvikki also contributes to capacity building in implementation science especially in low- and middle-income countries through the Global Alliance for chronic Diseases.

KuvumpurathuDr. Kavumpurathu R. Thankappan (MD, MPH) is a Professor working at the Dept. of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Central University Kerala and was a former Senior Grade Professor and the Head of the Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences & Technology (SCTIMST).Dr. Thankappan currently teaches and researches in the area of chronic non-communicable diseases and their risk factors. His academic interests include the epidemiology of chronic non-communicable diseases and their risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.

ChrisMr. Chris Bates (MPH) is a clinical radiation therapist and working in cancer control in global health. Chris has mainly worked in the Pacific islands on projects relating primary health care management of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and health system supports. His current focus is on all aspects of cancer control in the international civil service in at least 12 countries. Chris was the founding President of the Melbourne Population Health Students Association.


Dr Sathish Thirunavukkarasu is a medical doctor with a PhD in epidemiology and a Master's degree in Public Health (MPH).  Dr. Sathish is currently a Post-Doctorate Fellow at McMaster University in Canada, working on the PURE study, which is a large community-based cohort study of more than 200,000 adults from 27 high-, middle-, and low-income countries. Dr. Sathish’s research focuses on developing effective and cost-effective strategies for diabetes and cardiovascular disease prevention and translation of this evidence into routine clinical and public health practice.

Robyn Tapp

Associate Professor Robyn Tapp (PhD) has throughout her career translated population-based data into significant relevance to the individuals who will benefit from primary and secondary prevention of diabetes and its severe complications. Robyn’s collaborative research draws on expertise from the fields of endocrinology, ophthalmology, cardiology and epidemiology. Her range of projects, making use of a network of international collaborations, includes a diabetes prevention trial in India and a life course study on the impact of childhood growth patterns and latent cardiovascular risk factors on the heart and vasculature in adult life in Finland.

LeslieDr. Leslie Johnson (PhD, MPH MLitt) is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University School of Medicine in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, working primarily with the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center. Dr. Johnson has since conducted mixed-methods research as a part of two mindfulness-based intervention studies focused on addressing health disparities among individuals with chronic diseases.  Dr. Johnson has particular expertise in qualitative research and her research interests focus on implementation science and health service research as it relates to mental health and chronic disease management.


Professor Richard F. Southby, K.St.J. (PhD, FFPH, FRSPH)has been a faculty member at The George Washington University since 1979. Since 1984 he has been Director of the Interagency Institute for Federal Health Leaders, which is the major professional development program for senior health professionals, across all disciplines, in the US Army, US Navy, US Air Force, US Public Health Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Professor Richard is an Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne. He served as a Board member and lecturer for ASCEND, the Asian Collaboration for Excellence in Non-Communicable Diseases.

ZahraDr. Zahra Aziz (MPH, PhD) is a Lecturer and Deputy Course Convenor at the School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University. She is also a Research Fellow at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Implementation Research and Prevention and Control of NCDs. She has been a subject coordinator for the Master of Public Health Subjects including Non-Communicable Diseases and Global Health, and Public Health Leadership and Management. Dr Aziz’s  research focusses on the implementation and transferability of evidence-based behavioural interventions in routine health care practices and community settings.

YangDr. Yang Zhao (MPH, PhD) is a multi-morbidity epidemiologist and senior researcher at The George Institute for Global Health. He is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Implementation Research and Prevention and Control of NCDs at the University of Melbourne. He has participated in several research projects funded by the Save the Children International, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the Australia National Health and Medical Research Council, the European Union, and the National Health Commission of China. Dr. Yang’s research focuses on chronic disease epidemiology, multi-morbidity prevention and management, health economics, health systems and policy. He has published over 30 peer-reviewed publications in high-quality journals including The Lancet, Lancet Global Health, Age and Ageing, and Journal of Epidemiology.

AllissaAllissa Desloge is a recent graduate of the Yale School of Public Health where she received her Master’s of Public Health in Health Policy with a concentration in Global Health. Her passion is understanding the intersection and social determinants of noncommunicable diseases, mental health, and maternal & reproductive health in order to implement appropriate solutions for addressing these issues in vulnerable populations. This passion stemmed from Allissa’s various experiences with the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network of South Carolina, the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children & Seniors, and the World Health Organization. Prior to studying at Yale, Allissa received a BA in Public Health (summa cum laude) from the University of South Carolina. During her time in the NCDU she researched the relationship between common mental disorders and the progression of diabetes in Kerala, India. In addition, she worked on various projects for our unit's WHO Collaborating Center.

JohnDr John Tayu Leeereceived his MSc in Economics from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in Economics from the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York, England. From 2009 to 2015, he was a health economist at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Research Design Service at Imperial College, London. From 2015 to 2017, John was a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Health Economics at Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore.John’s research interests are in the Economics of Prevention, with an emphasis on the link between research evidence and policy. Current interests include the economic burden of multi-morbidity, tobacco control, pay-for-performance and universal health coverage. With colleagues, he has over 60 referred papers in leading public health and medical journals, including Health Affairs, The Lancet, Lancet Global Health, BMJ, CMAJ, Paediatrics, Annals of Family Medicine, Tobacco Control, BMJ Global Health and Preventive Medicine. He has featured in media outlets including the BBC News, Reuters, the Times of India and BBC Radio. John has been a reviewer for public health and global health journals and is Associate Editor for BMC Public Health. He reviews grant and fellowship proposals for international funding agencies. John teaches on the Masters of Public Health program at University of Melbourne. He has supervised numerous PhD, MPH students, and public health trainees. From 2016-2017, he served as President of the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research Singapore Chapter. In 2016, he was awarded the Alan Williams Fellowship from the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York. Between 2016-2018, John served as a coordinator of the University of Melbourne Health Economics Group (UMHEG).


Northern Health: Northern Centre for Health Education and Research

The NCDU and The University of Melbourne have a long-standing relationship with Northern Health, and more recently, the Northern Centre for Health Education and Research. Since opening the center in 2015, the University of Melbourne has undertaken extensive collaborative training and education of students and health professionals with Northern Health. The uniquely diverse population in the Northern Health region and the high prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, rheumatic diseases and COPD, and the strong relationship between members of Northern Health and the university, makes it a great testbed site for the numerous technological interventions constantly being developed by the NCDU, to improve self-management of chronic diseases and to improve health literacy and health outcomes amongst the population. The NCDU and the University of Melbourne have several current collaborations and have several future ones planned with the Victorian Government and Tata Consultancy Services. These include training courses for a new health workforce, programs to reduce hospital readmissions, technology studies, programs to improve health and digital literacy, and programs to address social isolation and loneliness within the uniquely diverse population.


NHMRC Partnership Grant: 'Improving the health of people with type 2 diabetes using ICT'

NHMRC Project Grant: 'Depression, anxiety and outcomes following a heart attack: How are they related?'

NHMRC Project Grant: 'Evaluating a group diabetes prevention program for high risk individuals in Kerala, India'

International Research and Research Training Fund (IRRTF): The University of Melbourne 'ENCORE program'

NHMRC Project Grant: the long-term effects of a peer led lifestyle intervention programs on diabetes progression and cardiovascular risk: the Kerala Diabetes Prevention Program

NHMRC GACD: Scaling up interventions to improve the control of hypertension and diabetes in partnership with the governments of Kerala’s and Tamil Nadu” Leveraging India’s national NCD program

NHMRC: Centre for Research Excellence: CRE in Interactive Digital Technology to Transform Australia’s Chronic Disease Outcomes. This centre will optimise user experience, increase integration and produce safety guidelines for interactive digital technologies – mobile apps, chatbots, and wearable devices – to increase the impact and widespread use of technology to reduce the personal, societal and economic costs associated with chronic diseases.

Research Opportunities

This research project is available to Masters by Research to join as part of their thesis.
Please contact the Research Group Leader to discuss your options.