From the Acting Director

Welcome to our September newsletter and my first address as Acting Director. It is hard to believe we are already three-quarters of the way through this so far very memorable year.

Professor Alan Bensoussan, NICM Health Research Institute (NICM HRI) Foundational Director, will formally retire from the Directorship in October 2020. He has made tremendous contributions to the Institute, and complementary and integrative medicine research, education and policy development in Australia and in the world over the last three decades. Professor Bensoussan, as he mentioned in our last newsletter, never envisaged retirement as a hard stop, and will continue to serve the mission and vision of the Institute in an ongoing fashion. The incoming new NICM HRI Director will be finalised for 2021, as I continue to act in the Director role until then.

COVID-19 has seen our preclinical and clinical work processes adjusting to a new normal. We have also moved our Seminar Series to an online platform, continuing to educate and inform across interesting topics from peers in the field of diet and dementia, and physical activity and mental health.

Earlier this month we hosted our online Medicinal Cannabis Research Update, which was attended by over 200 people and received great feedback from the attendees. We are now in preparations for our next online event, where we will be co-hosting with All India Institute of Ayurveda (AIIA, Indian Ministry of AYUSH) an afternoon webinar discussing the latest research in mental health and the use of yoga and Ayurveda medicine.

In industry related events and news, Complementary Medicines Australia’s annual conference and industry awards has been postponed to February next year due to COVID-19.  In further industry news, progress has been made to down-schedule medicinal cannabis with the TGA making an interim decision to amend the Poisons Standard to allow registered, low-dose cannabidiol (CBD) to be sold as a Schedule 3 (pharmacist-only) medicine. After a period of public comment until 13 October, a final decision will be made late November this year with expected implementation in February 2021.

In the last newsletter we shared Western Sydney University’s rankings. I am pleased to report that Western has further strengthened its position in the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings. For 2020-2021, Western has rising to 251st in the world from more than 1,500 universities, firmly cementing its position within the top two per cent of universities worldwide. This year’s results saw Western improve its scores across all the categories, particularly for academic citations, reflecting the University’s high-quality research.

You will read further also in this edition about the Westmead Innovation Quarter. This joint venture between the University and Charter Hall Group, is a $350 million project and a world-class development. The development will see us joined by our fellow institutes at Westmead, including the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, and the Translational Health Research Institute (THRI), as well as industry including Australia’s national science research agency, CSIRO.

As part of a further collaboration between the Institute, Western Sydney University, and the Western Sydney Local Health District, midwives from the Westmead Women and Newborn Health clinic co-located in our Western Sydney Integrative Health clinic last month. The midwives are running an innovative antenatal and postnatal care program nicknamed PAPOOSE (Pre And Postnatal Outpatients cOllabOrative Service) which provides new mothers with continuity of care within a community setting. Women attending PAPOOSE will have the opportunity to attend for acupuncture, yoga, meditation and massage when our Western Sydney Integrative Health clinic commences operations.

In other progress and developments at the Institute, our architects have now received draft floor plans for the development of our additional laboratories on the lower ground floor at Westmead. Partially supported by philanthropic donations, this advancement will realise the development of GMP manufacturing facilities, herbal extraction and formulation laboratory and further PC2 pharmacology space. We anticipate work to commence in the new year and hope for the facilities to be completed and functioning mid-2021.

Western Sydney University and NICM HRI will be closed in the lead up to the October long-weekend from Monday, 28 September, to Tuesday 6, October inclusive to enable staff and students to enjoy valuable time off with family and friends over the holiday period.

On behalf of the NICM HRI team, we wish you and your families an enjoyable and safe long-weekend

With best wishes,

Professor Dennis Chang

25 September 2020