From the Director

Welcome to our mid-winter newsletter. We hope you are safe and well. With the current government restrictions that are now in place and the impact on University operations, I write my first address as incoming Director from my home office. Something we have all become very familiar with. We continue to adapt and adjust to a new normal once again, and take steps to safeguard the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff and students. The University is continually reviewing all its operations; acting on the latest Australian Government and health authority advice; taking all the necessary precautions; and doing our part to slow the spread of the virus.

Prior to the current COVID-19 restrictions for Greater Sydney, I’m pleased to report we had finalised renovation plans for the new laboratory facilities located on our lower ground floor, including a GMP manufacturing facility, R&D lab, and additional PC2 pharmacological space. As well as allowing us to manufacture nutraceuticals and herbal medicines, plans have been extended to move to a pharmaceutical manufacturing license. This will enable us to additionally produce S4 pharmaceutical medicines, mainly in tablet, capsule, and power form. With revised timelines, we look forward to building commencing by August with an expected completion at year-end.

At present our team are busy finalising our upcoming virtual Medicinal Cannabis Symposium to be held on Thursday 12 August. Featuring leading speakers from government, research, academia, and industry, this programme is designed to showcase current Australian research and provide insights into regulatory development and education regarding medicinal cannabis. Keynotes will be delivered from former senator for Victoria and Australian Greens leader, Dr Richard Di Natale and Canadian based, Dr Caroline MacCallum, one of the world’s most prominent experts in cannabinoid-based medicine. I encourage anyone with an interest in the field to register before 4 August.

In a similar field of research, there has been growing interest in the psychedelic market, locally and internationally. This is reflected in the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant of $12 million for research into the use of psychedelics, like magic mushrooms and MDMA, for the treatment of mental health disorders. We congratulate Professor Jerome Sarris who, as part of a multi-university team, has been awarded the grant over a 5-year period.

Congratulations is also extended to Dr Mitchell Low in securing an Innovation Connections Grant; Dr Carolyn Ee for receiving a grant in the management of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS); Dr Diana Karamacoska for a research grant in supporting people with dementia and their carers; and Dr Suzanne Grant for receiving a grant to support people with cancer through lifestyle medicine.

In addition, I am delighted to announce four NICM HRI postdoctoral researchers were successful in securing a 4-year postdoctoral fellowship under the University’s Research Support Fellowship Program. Congratulations to Dr Deep Bhuyan, Dr Diana Karamacoska, Dr Emily Yang and Dr Phoebe Zhou. This was a university-wide, highly competitive scheme and it’s a testament to our research excellence and these talented researchers that NICM HRI has been awarded close to 20 per cent of the fellowships on offer.

Earlier this year we welcomed several delegations to our Westmead campus. These include Mr Yu Wu, President, and Mr Jian-Hua Zheng, founding president, Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Society of Australia and their colleagues who visited in April. The delegation was provided a tour of NICM HRI facilities, and we discussed opportunities for collaboration in continuous training, clinical practice and research in traditional Chinese medicine.

In other news, the Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings were released on 21 April. Western was very pleased to have achieved a ranking of 6th in Australia and 17th in the world overall, for our social, ecological and economic impact, placing it within the top 1.5 per cent of all institutions ranked this year. The annual University Impact Rankings assess how the global higher education sector is working towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and institutions are assessed against 13 performance indicators.

Despite some last-minute changes due to COVID restrictions, the University’s graduation ceremonies this month were held very successfully. On Monday 21 June, Professor Bensoussan delivered the Occasional Address and was accorded the title of Emeritus Professor, which is a testament to Alan’s tremendous achievements in the field of integrative and complementary medicine research over more than 30 years. We also congratulate NICM HRI’s Yu-Ting Sun and Kylie Barr who were awarded their PhDs during this ceremony. I am also very happy to report the growth we have seen despite the challenges of COVID-19 over the last year (and currently) with our Higher Degree Research (HDR) students. We have 39 active HDR students, comprising of 23 PhDs. I look forward to attending in the coming years their graduation ceremonies and celebrating their successes.

I hope you enjoy reading our winter issue.

With best wishes,

Professor Dennis Chang

30 June 2021