Emeritus Professor Robyn Lucas

ANU College of Health and Medicine

Areas of expertise

  • Epidemiology 111706
  • Research, Science And Technology Policy 160511
  • Preventive Medicine 111716

Research interests

I have three primary areas of research interest:

  1. Environmental effects on immune function, including:
  • autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and autoimmune vasculitides
  • the immune response to vaccination
  • the specific effects of ultraviolet radiation and vitamin D

    2.   Balanced sun exposure for optimal health

  • examining the balance of the beneficial effects of vitamin D production and the adverse effects, including skin cancers and eye diseases.
  • International public health policy in regard to sun exposure, including considerations of ozone depletion and climate change

    3.   Epidemiological methodology, including:

  • case-control studies including the challenges of control recruitment, maximising participation rates
  • multi-centre studies (cross-sectional, clinical trials)
  • teaching of epidemiology, population health and biostatistics


Background Prof Lucas is a medically trained epidemiologist and specialist public health physician. She holds adjunct positions at James Cook University and the Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia. Lucas completed science and medical degrees in 1975 and 1979 (respectively) at the University of Auckland, and worked in clinical settings before completing a Masters of Public Health and Tropical Medicine from James Cook University (2000). She received the Australasian College of Tropical Medicine Medal for highest achievement in that course. In 2004 Lucas completed a PhD in Epidemiology and Population Health, examining psychological and social stress effects on immune function. Simultaneous with her PhD work, Lucas was the main contributing author to the WHO Global Burden of Disease due Ultraviolet Radiation assessment, developing the methodology and undertaking all analyses for that work. In 2005 Lucas was awarded Fellowship of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine. She was a reviewer, then author and now panel member and author of the “Health impacts of ozone depletion” chapters in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 reports of the UNEP Environmental Effects Assessment Panel for the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depletion. She was lead author for health for the 2014 and 2018 quadrennial reports of the panel and co-author on subsequent reports. Since completing her PhD, Lucas has led internationally recognized research, developed national and international collaborations, been highly successful in seeking funding for ongoing work  and participated in the translation of that work into sun exposure policy. She has had an active teaching role at the ANU Medical School (ANUMS) and been instrumental in the development of epidemiology and biostatistics short courses at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH). Lucas retired from her position as Head of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health in Jan 2021 and now holds an Emeritus position with the Centre.

Researcher's projects

Lucas’ research involves multi-centre quantitative observational epidemiology in two primary research fields: understanding environmental effects on immune function and evaluating the pros and cons of sun exposure to develop sun exposure messages for optimum health.

Environmental effects on immune function

a) The Ausimmune Study (1 Nov 2003-31 Dec 2008), examining environmental influences on the development of CNS demyelination and progression to multiple sclerosis. Successful completed with high participation rates (cases 92%, controls 60%) and completion of case follow-up to 3 years (85% retention with full data; >90% clinical outcome only) Additional NHMRC funding was successfully sought in 2009 for ongoing case follow-up 6 publications to date

b) The AusUVI Study (completed), examining the effect of sun exposure and vitamin D status on the immune response to vaccination with a novel antigen

Pros and cons of sun exposure and optimal sun exposure

a) The WHO Global Burden of Disease due to Ultraviolet Radiation Study (completed). We evaluated the global burden of disease attributable to ultraviolet radiation exposure, taking account of both beneficial and adverse effects on health.

b) Membership of the the UNEP EEAP for the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depletion (annual meetings to assess the evidence in relation to sun exposure and health with particular reference to ozone depletion and climate change) and the Protocol Sub-committee for the International Vitamin D Standardisation Program.

c) The AusD Study (completed 31 Dec 2010). This NHMRC-funded multicentre cross-sectional study examined the prevalence and determinants of vitamin D status across Australia and the relationshipo between UVR exposure and vitamin D status.

d) Centre for Research Excellence in Sun and Health (completed), funded by NHMRC in 2010. This was a 5-year collaboration, based at the Queensland University of Technology, covering a number of PhD and post-doctoral positions across the range of beneficial and adverse effects of sun exposure. Applications are currently being sought for these positions, some of which will be based at ANU, with others at QUT, QIMR and the University of Melbourne.

e) Seasonal D study (completed). This cohort study followed 170 participants each in Canberra and Brisbane over 12 months to assess the determinants of seasonal variation in vitamin D status. Participation involved 7 2-monthly visits to the study centre, with data collection by questionnaire, UV badge and sun diary, and a blood test.

f). Sun exposure and Vitamin D supplementation Study (SEDS Study) (completed). The study recruited over 400 participants who will be randomised to receive different doses of vitamin D supplementation and different forms of sun exposure advice. The aim is to see how sun exposure advice calibrates against different vitamin D doses, and to explore the possible separate effects of vitamin D and sun exposure on immune and metabolic function.

Past student projects

  1. Ultraviolet radiation and vitamin D. This PhD project (Olds, completed 2010) examined the relationship between UV radiation and vitamin D production using an in vitro model. It examined the effect of UV intensity and skin temperature on the production of vitamin D, and characterised the vitamin D action spectrum.
  2. Validation of the sun exposure measures in the 45 & Up Study. This study is now completed and showed that a brief questionnaire item for time outdoors was a reasonable predictor for actual measured UVR exposure.
  3. The AusUVI Study examining the effect of natural levels of sun exposure on the immune response to vaccination
  4. Effects of exposure to particulate matter on health risks, including future forecasting taking account of climate change effects
  5. Epstein Barr virus and human herpes virus 6 - development of an assay for DNA load in whole blood and examination of these as risk factors for onset of multiple sclerosis
  6. Vitamin D status at melanoma diagnosis and markers of worse melanoma prognosis


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Updated:  14 April 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers